The 2010 Tour of Qinghai Lake - China's biggest professional cycling event - gets underway with a 72km criterium in Huzhu County in the country's west. The street circuit race is a prelude to the tour's official start the following day in the 'Summer City' of Xining.
It's the ninth running of the tour which takes in some of China's most breathtaking scenery. Large crowds are again expected in the provinces and organisers are hopeful of another successful tour. With more than 250,000 (USD) on offer the racing is sure to hot.
The field of 147 riders from 21 teams has an international flavour to whet the appetite of any United Nations representative. The teams are made up of two Pro-Continental, 13 Continental, seven national and one team from Hong Kong.
The race is categorised as 2.HC by the UCI on the Asian tour and features something for everyone in the peloton over the race distance of 1,241km. There are three hors categorie climbs during the tour with the highest point of the race reaching a maximum altitude of 3,870m on the seventh stage from Xihaizhen to Qilian.
The penultimate 150km stage from Qilian to Qingshizuei could well decide the race with another hors categorie climb of 3,767m at the 94km mark.
The speedsters in the peloton have plenty of opportunities to earn some dollars with 17 intermediate sprints up for grabs along the race route.
Some of the riders to watch will be reigning champion Andrey Mizorov from Kazakhstan, who will line up for the Tabriz Petrochemical Cycling Team. The squad, which won the team's classification at this year's Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia, is a strong outfit with Germany's Tobias Erler - who wore the leader's jersey in Malaysia for three days - and Iranian stalwarts Hossien Askari and Ghader Mizbani, who could all figure on the general classification.
Slovenian National Team rider Mitja Mahoric finished third overall in the race last year, just over a minute behind Mizorov, and is again in contention for a podium finish. Teammate Matej Stare finished just outside the top ten in 2009 and will be keen to figure prominently.
China will be looking at Shengjun Wu (Qinghai Tianyoude Cycling Team) for some more success on home soil. Wu won the first stage here last year, beating eventual tour winner Mizorov.
Ukrainian rider Yuriy Metlushenko (Amore & Vita-Conad) will be one to watch in the sprints, and is already a stage winner here taking out the sixth stage from Bird Island into Xihaizhen in last year's edition.
Danish rider Mads Christensen (Glud & Marstrand-LRO Radgivning), who placed sixth in his country's national championships last month won by Saxo Bank rider Nicki Sorensen, is a likely to feature here.
The tour mascot is a cartoon version of Przewalski's gazelle named after a Russian naturalist. The name given to the mascot is ‘Duoji', a Tibetan name meaning strong and vigorous. Just what is required to win the ‘highest race in the world'.
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