Bauke Mollema finished safely in the bunched finish for the sixth and final day at the Tour of Guangxi Tuesday to wrap up second place overall, a position he has held since the summit ending of stage four.
With five of the six stages ending in mass sprint finishes, there was little chance for the climbers to fight for the general classification, giving the uphill finish of the fourth day much more weight than first alleged in the inaugural WorldTour event. The hills of the final two stages were not hard enough, or too far from the finish, to make a difference.
Mollema agreed: "Today was not that hard of a stage. I believe that after yesterday everybody understood the stage would finish in a bunch sprint again. The breakaway could go easily, and once they were gone, we kept riding at a good pace in the peloton. The two climbs were situated at 40-50km of the finish, and nothing really happened there: Nobody attacked, nobody got dropped.
"So yeah, basically it was a quite relaxed day. I believe everybody in the bunch could appreciate that and is happy the season is over. I am happy too, I must say. There was not really an opening to attack (Tim) Wellens' position anymore, so I am happy to finish the Tour on the podium and also to be able to end my season like this. I was still in shape, and I knew for a few months now that I would ride here, so that helped me to stay motivated and to keep training to be able to race for the victory."
With no opportunity for Mollema to recover the six seconds, Tim Wellens – flanked by his strong Lotto Soudal team for the entire race – went unchallenged in the final stage to claim the overall title, while Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) secured third place overall. In the end, the podium displayed the same order of the top three finishers of stage four.
"It was a long season, starting in January in Argentina," Mollema continued. "If you look at it, my season started with a victory and ended with a 2nd place and that's nice. I believe I have been very consistent throughout the whole season and I was quite good all year long. The highlights were my victory in Argentina, and of course, my stage win at the Tour. That really, really stood out for me. In the end, I think I did a quite good Giro as well, finishing 7th in GC.
"So yeah, I think I had a nice season where I raced more globally than ever, going from Argentina to Abu Dhabi, from Canada to China. I believe that's the future of cycling, our sport is becoming more and more international, and from that perspective, this Tour of Guangxi gives definitely added value to the calendar. The surroundings here are really amazing, and the uphill finish went to a very beautiful area as well. Everything was extremely well organized; the hotels were very nice too.
"For me personally, maybe there were somewhat too much bunch sprints, but still, I enjoyed it a lot. I hope this race will help to make riding your bike more popular in this region. If this Tour could stimulate the Chinese people living here to start riding a bike, that would be great!"
In the sprint, Giacomo Nizzolo finished in 17th place, not his usual placing, but after missing almost all of the 2017 season, he had accomplished more important goals this week than results. Not only did he make a physical progression, but perhaps more importantly, he gained back the sensations of sprinting amongst top competition, explained team director Kim Andersen. Nizzolo was back in his element, a much-needed boost to his morale ahead of the off-season and in preparing for 2018.
"Giacomo was feeling better today, and it was good that he could race here even though it is the end of the season. The level of sprinters here was very high, and even though he could not sprint for the win, it was important that he did this race, not only for his head, but also he has made a progression here that he can build on for next season," said Andersen.
"Overall, I am happy with this week," he continued. "The team we had here was very motivated, and Bauke was really willing to work hard and go for the victory. He went very well on the climbs, and that was good to see as he started the year with a victory in Argentina in January, so he was very constant all season. And that is not easy to do.
"The level at this race was quite high, and I was surprised and very pleased with the organization – perfect roads, the safety of riders was 300%, and although the parcours was not too difficult, the riders raced it for the victory and not like it was the final race of the season. The whole week there were lots of people on the sidelines, it was like a Tour de France level with all the spectators. It was a great race."