The final race of the 2014 UCI WorldTour starts on Friday, the Tour of Beijing. Here we pick out the leading contenders.
For more race information, see our full Tour of Beijing preview.
Rui Costa, MovistarThird place at the Tour of Lombardy suggests that Rui Costa is already relishing racing post-rainbow jersey. He has performed well in week-long stage races all year (first at the Tour de Suisse, second in Paris-Nice, third at the Tour de Romandie), and typically does well at the Tour of Beijing, finishing fourth last year and ninth in 2012. He’ll take some beating on the Mentougou Miaofeng Mountain, a climb he looks very suited to.
Samuel Sanchez, BMCHaving finished sixth overall at the Vuelta and fifth at the Tour of Lombardy, Sanchez is enjoying something of a late season resurgence. His current form echoes the Spaniard at his best between 2007 and 2011, the highlight from which was gold in the Olympic road race. Sanchez return to the same city in which he won that medal, and, with what looks like the strongest team in the race, has a good shot at claiming some more Chinese success.
Dan Martin, Garmin-SharpVictory at the Tour of Lombardy last week answered any doubts over how fresh Martin was feeling after his highest ever grand tour finish (seventh) at the Vuelta, and he looks set to continue to capitalise on his good form at the Tour of Beijing. He has as good a record here as any rider, having finished second last year and fourth in 2012, and will be confident of making the top step of the podium this tie round.
Benat Intxausti, MovistarDespite not winning a single race since claiming the overall at Beijing last year, Intxausti rides this year with aiming to defend his title. Encouragingly for the Spaniard, Monday’s decisive mountain stage is virtually the same as the stage he won last year, but his form going into the race is questionable – he failed to complete the Tour of Lombardy, and over two months have passed since his impressive third at the Tour of Poland.
Rigoberto Uran, Omega Pharma-Quick StepThere’s no-one riding in this year’s Tour of Beijing capable of matching Rigoberto Uran’s climbing when the Colombian is at his best, but he has reserved such form for the Giro d’Italia back in May, where he finished second overall. In fact, Uran seems quite a way off his best form at the moment, following a GC bid at the Vuelta which failed to materialise, so overall victory may be unlikely.
Pieter Weening, Orica-GreenEdgeWhereas most GC hopefuls will wait until stage four to make a move, Weening is the kind of rider who could surprise everyone with an attack earlier in the race. The rolling terrain of stage three looks the best bet for an ambush, and, if Weening does happen to gain some time, has the climbing ability to defend the leader’s jersey the day after.
David Lopez, SkyWith Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins done for the season, autumn provides Sky domestiques like Lopez with the rare opportunity to ride as a protected rider. Last year he enjoyed some success in the role by finishing third overall, but in the run-in to Beijing this year he hasn’t quite been at the same level, managing eleventh in the Tour of Britain compared with fourth last year.
Roman Kreuziger, Tinkoff-SaxoKreuziger only returned to racing this month after being cleared from wrongdoing by the Czech Olympic Committee with regards to his biological passport-related suspension. 23rd at the Tour of Lombardy suggests he has decent form, but winning overall would be a big ask.
Ones to Watch
Ben Swift, Sky
Swift’s breakthrough season comes to a close at the Tour of Beijing, and he may well end on another high. Despite the probability of four bunch finishes the field is quite light on sprinters, leaving Swift as one of the quickest finishes. Stage three looks like his best bets due to its leg-sapping rolling terrain, but he’s a potential winner of all four.
Luka Mezgec, Giant-Shimano
Despite being one of the best sprinters around, Mezgec is third in the Giant-Shimano pecking order behind Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, meaning he is only made leader in races like this. He’ll therefore probably be eager to make an impression, and looks certain to add to the one stage he won here last year.
Daryl Impey, Orica-GreenEdge
Since being cleared of a doping violation in August, Impey has been on a hot streak of form, winning a stage and the overall at the Tour of Alberta and finishing fourth at the GP de Quebec. Like Swift, he’ll benefit from the lack of other sprinters riding.
Photos from the team presentation and press conference ahead of the 2014 Tour of Beijing. Photos by Graham Watson
A look ahead to the final UCI WorldTour race of the 2014 season, the Tour of Beijing: info, stages, TV