It’s not over just yet. Tadej Pogačar’s Il Lombardia victory may have marked the symbolic end to the season, but there are still six more days of WorldTour racing in China before the 2023 campaign can be consigned to the books.
After a four-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tour of Guangxi returns to the calendar, with the race setting out from the port city of Beihai on Wednesday morning. The lie of the land, in professional cycling and beyond, has changed considerably since Enric Mas’ 2019 victory, but the route is a familiar one, and so too is the patchwork nature of the peloton.
At this late juncture, filling rosters is never a straightforward task. Like so many races in the dying days of the campaign, most lineups are a motley blend of youth and experience. Some riders travel seeking to capitalise on late-season form, while others are still desperately seeking contracts for 2024.
“Everyone has his own story for coming to this race,” inaugural winner Tim Wellens explained on Wednesday afternoon at a pre-race press conference in a shopping mall in Beihai. The UAE Team Emirates man is back in China for the first time since that 2017 race, partly because his 2023 season was interrupted by injuries sustained in the mass crash at the Tour of Flanders.
Wellens was able to return to action by the summer and he was back winning at the Renewi Tour in late August. The Tour of Guangxi, with its uphill finale at Nongla on stage 4, presents an obvious opportunity for Wellens to add to his tally before year’s end.
“I didn’t do a lot of races this year because I was injured,” he said. “And it’s a WorldTour race, so it’s important to try to win.”
His thoughts were echoed by Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers), who returns to China for the first time in a decade. The Italian picked up a brace of wins at the now-defunct Tour of Beijing early in his career, but he is spurred on here by an altogether more recent triumph. His win on the first day of the CRO Tour last month was his first in just over a year and Guangxi offers a chance to add to his 2023 tally.
“I went a long time without winning and then I broke the ice in Croatia, so I’ll try to keep the momentum,” said Viviani, who hasn’t won a WorldTour race since his spell with QuickStep ended in 2019.
With potentially five sprints on the agenda in the days ahead, mind, Viviani is far from the only fast man to make the long haul to China. Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny), so…