Image: ©Kim Daebong
When racing in Europe, the race usually follows a pretty predictable pattern: a break is allowed to escape at the start. The bunch relaxes until the bigger GC teams or sprinters' teams move to the front to control the pace. Eventually, the break is brought back just in time for the usual suspects to contest the finish. Sometimes the bigger teams get it wrong and the break survives to the finish, but most of the time, it's fairly predictable.
When racing in America, the racing is full-on from the start and it doesn't stop. It's as if every race is a criterium, regardless of the actual length. The race is single-file from when the flag drops until the peloton blows apart as riders tire of the pace. With so many smaller teams keen to prove themselves and show their potential, it is a war of attrition to the end. It makes for tough, exciting racing and you will see a lot of names in the future coming out of the US.
On the flip side, when racing in Asia, there is absolutely no formula or pattern. Whatever you think will happen, typically it is the opposite. The attacks are relentless with riders seemingly chasing down their own teammates with kamikaze attempts to escape the peloton. Last week, the Tour de Korea was no exception . . .
When looking at stage profiles, the Tour de Korea was a sprinter's race - in theory. With no climb greater than a Category 3, you could expect a bunch sprint almost every day. However, the race was anything but.
Stage 1 went as expected with a final sprint, but with team rosters limited to six riders, and many teams fielding a second team at other races in Europe, no one was strong enough to control the race.
What resulted were endless attacks, breakaways that typically would stay away getting brought back, and breakaways that never should’ve survived reaching the finish well before the peloton. The leader’s jersey changed hands four times, and the overall winner never actually won a stage all week.
On some days, it would take over 100 kilometers for a breakaway to form with every team almost desperate to put a rider off the front. Generally, no more than five riders were allowed to escape. However, when a break finally did get away, it was almost impossible to organise the pursuit.
Again, in theory, teams that had no reason to ride on the front of the peloton were driving the pace whilst others, including the leader's team, refused to work. There were several instances where a team would have a rider in the breakaway, riding hard to stay away, while at the same time, their 'teammates' were on the front of the bunch, riding hard to bring the break back. It made absolutely no sense.
Every climb, regardless of the race situation or how far it was from the finish, was taken at full speed and the race would blow apart. Things would always come back together a few kilometers down the road.
Team Novo Nordisk brought along our Spanish GC rider, Javier Megias, and after looking at the stage profiles, he concluded that the race would be decided on bonus seconds in the sprints and that the race did not suit him. However, on Stage 6, he found himself in a breakaway that finished seven minutes ahead of the peloton even though the leader’s team rode hard all day.
In the end, Javier finished second overall, which is Team Novo Nordisk’s best GC result to date. It was a pleasant surprise because, and once again based on theory; the race shouldn’t have panned out this way. Racing in Asia is always a surprise and eventually, you learn to expect the unexpected.
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