At almost two meters tall, Max Walscheid is arguably the most physically imposing of the sprinters in the WorldTour peloton. However, the Sunweb speedster is aiming to grow his palmarès to a similar stature.
A five-time stage winner at the Tour of Hainan last year, the 24-year-old knows how to celebrate victory in China. Although the WorldTour Tour of Guangxi features a higher calibre peloton, Walscheid has emerged as a genuine contender for Fernando Gaviria's early sprint dominance.
Fourth on stage 1 with Michael Matthews leading him out, Walscheid found his own way in the long drag of stage 2, explaining gear selection cost him in the narrow loss to Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors).
"In the end every sprinter was on his own. It was a hard final with the last two kilometres rising up," Walscheid said of the "messy" sprint to Cyclingnews. "It didn't look like this on the profile, but in the end, I think it was a good sprint. I should have taken an easier gear because I still had it in my legs.
With Dylan Groenewegen and Pascal Ackermann, the podium finishers from stage 1, not featuring in the sprint, Walscheid has shown himself as Gaviria's major rival for sprint wins.
"I think now I am two places better than yesterday and tomorrow is another chance," he said, adding the caveat that "Gaviria is a really good opponent."
Aiding Walscheid in the sprint is Michael Matthews as the Australian turns helper for the race, repaying his teammates for their work earlier in the year. And for the German, the sprint nous of Matthews, who won two stages of the Tour de France and green jersey in July, is invaluable.
"For me, it's a big honour to have the green jersey of the Tour de France as a lead-out," he told Cyclingnews on the morning of stage 2. "It worked the last lead-out and then it's also for me the pressure to fulfill it but I think I am capable of winning a stage here and therefore we try to do our best. It is definitely very nice to see a big rider like Michael dedicated to working. He can teach me a lot of small things. How to overtake, where to overtake and I think that is worth having him here."
With the team backing Walscheid, he reiterated, "victory is a goal. Every race I do I take learning points but I am definitely here to get results. It is not a preparation race."
Although down on his 2016 win count, Walscheid's season has included his first European win at the Tour of Denmark and maiden WorldTour podium result. After early-season mishaps, he explained he was able to express his abilities later in the year with the aim of turning placings into wins once again in China.
"In the second half of the season I was quite stable and had some nice results but the first half, I am not so happy because I had a few sicknesses and a really hard crash at Scheldeprijs," he reflected. "That cost me a lot of energy because it was a lot of up and down and at WorldTour level, it is really hard to come back if you are out for one week. The second half of the season was quite stable, and I could see that if I had a few stable weeks in the past, that I can reach top results.”