By Paul Knott
If you are still craving the last few dregs of road cycling action in 2017, fear not! Some of the world's best riders were competing in China this weekend at The Tour de France Shanghai Criterium.
However, the pre-race press conference on Saturday somewhat stole the show of the weekend's events. Delivering a unique blend of local tradition and cycling insight that these end of season criteriums are known for.
In front of the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower, Chris Froome, Marcel Kittel, Alberto Contador and some of the World's best cyclists took a Tai-Chi lesson on stage as well as observing a Chinese Lion Dance performance.
Donning traditional robes, the riders were taken step by step through a Tai-Chi session with some riders picking it up faster than others.
When asked about the following day's race, the big name riders gave a variety of responses about racing in China.
Froome said 'the riders were all motivated to perform', Kittel was on a mission to bring some Chinese food back for his little brother and Barguil was happy to see the sun on a gorgeous day in a reputable smoggy environment.
The star of the show may well be Alberto Contador, who was once again riding a final farewell race.
Following on from the past criteriums that have been staged in Saitama, Japan in previous years this is the first event of its type organised by ASO to be held in China. With a number of riders travelling on to Japan for a similar race next Saturday.
It seemed as though Warren Barguil tempted fate with the good weather, as the riders woke to traditional foggy Chinese weather on Sunday morning.
The race consisted of four-man teams from six WorldTour teams as well as a selection of Chinese riders. Completing 20 laps of the 3km city circuit to make up the 60km race distance.
Some of the unique factors of the criterium included a points classification within the race itself, with points on offer during intermediate sprints at the end of the 4th, 8th, 12th and 16th lap and a team classification that will be given to the best two finishing riders on a team.
There was also a reappearance of the classification jerseys from the Tour de France. With Chris Froome wearing the yellow jersey and Warren Barguil donning the polka dot jersey and the red combatively number once again.
With a number of constant breakaways unable to secure a stable time gap on the peloton, thanks in part to the regular sprint intervals, Alberto Contador tried to animate the race for one last time.
Alas, it was to bring no podium success for the Spaniard who finished fourth but did secure the combativity prize, a fitting sign off to the way he has ridden his entire career.
"I know I spend more energy on attacks that maybe I should save for the final," he said, "but its a spectacle and I know the fans also enjoy this so for me not it's not a problem. It was hard I knew the profile wasn't the best for me, so I tried to attack, attack, attack to try and gain some metres as I’m not as fast for the sprint. But it was a nice day with the fans."
A unique triple crown?
In all honesty, it isn't likely that Chris Froome will place his race victory on Sunday in ‘The Tour de France Skoda Shanghai Criterium’ alongside his Tour de France or Vuelta ã Espana exploits.
However it was the perfect way to round off his 2018 season.
"It wasn't easy, and there were some really strong sprinters so the only option was to attack."
Luckily for Froome when it came to crunch point, Kittel and the other known sprinters had dropped off the pace to leave the Team Sky man to beat out Rigoberto Uran into second and Barguil into third.
"There's such a great atmosphere here in Shanghai, and I think the public was really happy to sample a little bit of the Tour de France. It’s also great to experience a completely different culture as well," Froome added.