After a stint in Beijing, China chose the land of longevity to host its UCI WorldTour race as a long term project led by Wanda. The province of Guangxi has the world’s highest proportion of centenarians. It also has great landscapes to showcase.
And we’ve been treated to many of those natural features on the Gree-Tour of Guangxi when we’re not transfixed by the racing that has included some thrilling performances including a fine sprinting display from Bora-Hangrohe’s Pascal Ackermann (GER) and Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Enric Mas showing a quality hilltop finish at the Nogla Scenic Area on Stage 4 to assume the overall lead with two stages remaining.
Mas’s fellow Spaniard, veteran rider Fran Ventoso, returned to China for the first time since he won the 2009 Tour of Hainan with CarmioOro-A Style. “It brings great memories back, but it’s totally different to come here for racing now with the UCI WorldTour in place,” the 37-year-old rider said when he and the rest of his CCC Team arrived in Beihai. “The level is very high. However, we’re set to win stages with Jakub Mareczko.”
Mareczko, the Poland-born Italian has no fewer than 32 wins under his belt in China at the age of only 25. He started his successful campaign with the 2015 Tour of Hainan and continued winning bunch sprints at the Tour of Taihu Lake, the Tour of Qinghai Lake, the Tour of Yancheng and the Tour of China. His first participation to the Gree-Tour of Guangxi coincides with his first season in the UCI WorldTour with CCC Team. He made his return to China being yet to win a race this year and set up a renewed clash with the two other young sprinters who accompanied him on the podium of the Under-23 UCI Road World Championship in Doha, Qatar, in 2016: Norway’s Kristoffer Halvorsen (Team Ineos) and Ackermann, whose finishing form was shown again in Guangxi, narrowly beaten by the New Zealand-born Briton Dan McLay (EF Education First) on Stage 2 and coming back to win Stage 3 in Nanning and take the race leader’s jersey for a day.
With many of the roads of the Guangxi province having been built or resurfaced purposely for the Gree Tour of Guangxi – which helps make the race very popular among the local population – it’s an ideal place for sprinters to show themselves. Twenty-one-year-old Kaden Groves from Australia, who opened his record book in China at the 2017 Tour of Fuzhou, is amongst the young talent who want to impress. Fernando Gaviria (COL) and Dylan Groenewegen (NED) both captured the sprint finishes of the inaugural edition in 2017 and went on to win multiple stages at the Tour de France the following year. Ackermann and Fabio Jakobsen were the other bunch gallop winners last year before they went on to collect their first Grand Tour victories at the Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta Ciclista a España respectively this year.
The Nongla temple uphill finish on Stage 4 has made Tim Wellens (BEL) and Gianni Moscon (ITA) the first two overall winners of the Gree-Tour of Guangxi, for which riders have been full of praise, many of them asking to return. Mas, who finished 13th at Il Lombardia last weekend, showed his class on the 3km long climb that favours on-form cyclists over riders with an old list of achievements – giving himself a 5-sec advantage to defend.
Another race is going on, involving Total Direct Energie and Wanty-Groupe Gobert for the pride of being the first UCI Professional Continental Team at the end of the season’s ranking, so a duel is being played out between Frenchmen Lilian Calmejane and Guillaume Martin. They’re amongst the riders enjoying encouragements from the huge crowds as the Gree-Tour of Guangxi triggers local school holidays in the autonomous region.
The locals also celebrate their sporting hero Li Ning, who is a supporter of the Gree Tour of Guangxi. Li Ning is probably the most famous person from the Guangxi province that borders Vietnam in the south west of China. The gymnast who amassed six medals at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, carried the torch on top the Bird’s Nest stadium in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. He also opened the inaugural Gree Tour of Guangxi in 2017 and remains a strong advocate of China’s premier bike race.