Seven categorized climbs weren’t enough to sap the legs of FDJ’s sprinter Nacer Bouhanni Saturday. He handled the hills in the 176-km Stage Three of the Tour of Beijing, helped by his team of course, and was perfectly positioned in the last kilometer to win the final sprint and retain the race leader’s red jersey.
The stage started with three Cat Three climbs, followed by a Cat Two a Cat One, and another Cat Two, and a final Cat Three ten km from the finish. None of the climbs were particularly steep, between four and six percent–nothing to stop a determined sprinter.
After an initial breakaway of six riders was caught on the descent of the penultimate climb, the Cat Two Cang Mi Guo Dao with 40 km left in the stage, a group of 14 got away got away. Lotto-Belisol’s Adam Hansen attacked alone and opened a good gap over this group.
Hansen had one minute’s lead with 20 km to go, but he was tiring, the peloton caught him 11 km from the line, on the first slopes of the last climb, the Cat Three Huang Tu Liang.
Three-time World Time Trial champion and two-time Tour of Beijing winner Tony Martin of Omega Pharma-Quickstep attacked after the climb, hoping to time-trial his way to the finish, but he came up four kilometers short.
With Martin caught, Omega Pharma-Quickstep fought its way to the front of the peloton in the final 2K, hoping to set up Alessandro Pettachi for the sprint. Cannondale and Katusha followed close behind, riding for Elia Viviani and Aleksei Tsatevich.
The road took a 90-degree turn half a kilometer from the line. Pettachi was second after the turn, seemingly perfectly positioned, but he got boxed in as Viviani streaked by on the right and Astana’s Borut Bozic passed on the left, with Bouhanni on his wheel. Pettachi tried to follow, but Bouhanni left him—and the rest—behind. Tsattevich came up fast on Bouhanni’s right but finished a length-and-a-half behind.
With time bonuses, Bouhanni stretched his general Classification lead over Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Matthews and AG2R’s Maxime Bouet to eleven seconds.
None of these three are likely to figure in the overall after Sunday’s Stage Four, with its three categorized climbs leading to a Cat One summit finish. Sunday will suit the climbers, the only real chance they will have to shine in the five-stage event.
If Bouhanni and the other sprinters can stay close, they might have a chance to grab a GC win in the final stage, a pan-flat series of laps in downtown Beijing.