WorldTour racing returns to China in 2017 with the inaugural edition of the six-stage Tour of Guangxi. A late addition to the 2017 WorldTour calendar, the race has attracted a strong start list despite its late slot on the calendar and offers a route with opportunities for sprints, punchier and climbers.
Compared to the Tour of Beijing which was held from 2011 through to 2014, the Tour of Guangxi has been designed to show off the best that the southern province Guangxi has to offer with sport superpower Wanda a key backer of the race.
The race is held from October 19-24 with the port city of Beihai hosting the first stage before the riders head north and finish in the city of Guilin.
A sprint stage awaits the riders on stage 1 of the race with the bonus of the leader's jersey for the first rider across the line. The shortest of the six stages at 107.4km, the riders will face two anti-clockwise laps of Beihai. There are mountain points on offer at the category-three Guantou Hill at 40km and 94km with the second ascent possibly providing a launchpad for late attacks. With a rather long straight and flat run into the finish along Yintin Road, a sprint finish looks all but assured.
Stage 2 takes the race north from Qinzhou to Nanning over 156.7km with the riders treated to the scenery of the Guangxi province. Two category three climbs and three intermediate sprint points will liven up the day. Despite the 1,623 meters of climbing, a second bunch sprint in as many days is the likely outcome to stage 2 with the straight but slightly uphill one-kilometer finish.
Nanning City hosts stage 3 with a four-lap city circuit race of 125.4km. The 31.4km lap features the Liusha Road climb but points will only be awarded on the second and third passing. Intermediate sprint points are also up for grabs on the second and fourth laps. However, the main feature of the circuit is the long straight Minzu Avenue which will allow the sprinters and their trains ample time and space to prepare for a fast finale.
Stage 4 sees the race bade farewell to Nanning and head north to Nongla on a 151km route that features the uphill Scenic Area finale. An early category three climb is likely to see attacks to form a breakaway, but the GC teams should come forward to control the race. A fight for position is likely to heat up in anticipation of the final three kilometers as the peloton takes a right-hand turn for the climb to the Scenic Area via the category one climb.
The penultimate stage of the race is the longest at 212.2km with the peloton continues its jaunt north. Rolling out of Liuzhou, the riders face a category three climb a little under halfway into the day but its the late trio of a second category-three climb, a category two then a category one on the road to Guilin which is sure to test the legs. In total there are 2,474 metres of climbing on offer for the riders but the descent off the category one climb and flat run offers the chance for a regrouping. The stage is also the last real opportunity for riders to take back time on the final-day street circuit.
The race will wrap up with its third city circuit in six days. The first stage that takes the riders south, the 168.1km Gulin finale turns back around 70km into the day and makes a return via a few climbs. A final sprint opportunity looks to be on the cards although the lure of WorldTour points could see an upset and successful late breakaway or rider take a win.
A provisional start list for the Tour of Guangxi feature tahe confirmed 16 WorldTour teams. Only AG2R and FDJ are missing, with the Pro-Continental Caja Rural-Seguros RGA and Nippo Vini Fantini teams rounding out the list.
The Velon-affiliated race has ensured a strong list of riders for the late-season race which will also feature the UCI Gala following stage 6.
The healthy sprint field features the likes of Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), Danny van Poppel (Team Sky), Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida). Add into the mix Wouter Wippert (Cannondale-Drapac), Moreno Hofland (Lotto Soudal), Rick Zabel (Katusha-Alpecin), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Andrea Guardini (UAE Team Emirates) and a stage win will be a hard-fought prize.
In the battle for the overall, there is a similarly stacked field with Sky's Mikel Landa and Wout Poels firming as a formidable duo. Dutch duo Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) are also expected to feature in the top-end of the GC. BMC's Ben Hermans, Orica-Scott's Jack Haig, Critérium du Dauphiné winner Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data) also headline the GC contenders.
As the final race of the WorldTour calendar and last outing of the season for the majority of the riders, the Tour of Guangxi could well spring a few surprises. Throw into the mix the final WorldTour points on offer for 2017 and the Tour of Guangxi looks like delivering a spectator friendly first edition.