Daily Diary: Jason Christie talks Tour of Qinghai Lake Stage 7

By Aaron S Lee

The Tour of Qinghai Lake reaches the last of its major mountain stages, and reigning New Zealand road race champion Jason Christie shares his stage 7 experience exclusively with NZ Bike.

QINGSHIZUI, China—Italian Federico Zurlo (Lampre-Merida) emphatically won a sprint finish in what was the last significant mountains stage of the 15th 'Qinghai Rural Credit Cup' Tour of Qinghai Lake (UCI 2.HC) in Qingshizui, China, on Saturday, July 23.

The 22-year-old posted his first pro win after outsprinting Colombian Jahir Perez (Ningxia Sports Lottery-Focus Cycling Team), who also finished second the day before, and Iranian Hamid Pourhashemi (Pishgaman Cycling Team) by more than five bike lengths.

While many riders have succumbed to altitude sickness over the first week of racing in what is the UCI's highest average elevation of any bike race in the world, Zurlo has physiologically embraced the altitude according to Lampre-Merida team doctor Michele De Grandi.

"Zurlo is fast rider, but we see here in altitude he is good also in climbing," De Grandi told NZ Bike. "It is a physiological adaptation that happens to some fast riders when they go up.

"Everyday he was in the first group, this time he could remain in the breakaway and then he was the fastest one in the finish."

Now with Zurlo giving Lampre it's first win of the race, matching last year's win total at Qinghai Lake after teammate Ilia Koshevoy (BEL) also won on stage 7, the team is ready to move into the second week of racing in the 13-stage, 1,916km UCI Asia Tour road race often referred to as the unofficial "fourth grand tour" of cycling.

"It is fantastic," said the exuberant winner following the 150km stage featuring two intermediate sprints and one category 1 climb (3,767m elevation). "It was the perfect race and we used good tactics in the final for the win. This victory is for the entire team."

While there is no change in the either the GC or the points classification, with Ukrainian Vitaliy Buts (Kolss-BDC) holding on to both jerseys since winning stage 4 on Wednesday, as well as the mountains classification with Colombian Mauricio Ortega (RTS-Santic) maintaining his grip on the polka dot jersey since being the first to receive it on stage 3, the jersey for the best Asian rider has found a new owner.

Kazakhstan's Zhandos Bizhigitov (Vino 4ever SKO) lifts the blue top from teammate and two-time stage winner Yevgeniy Gidich, who slipped from third on GC to sixth after losing 2 minutes 41 seconds on the day. Bizhigitov, who according to team sports director Sergey Danniker is being considered for a stagiaire role with the Astana Pro Team following Qinghai Lake, moves into fourth overall just 45 seconds back.

NZ Bike caught up with reigning New Zealand road race champion Jason Christie (Kenyan Riders Downunder) to get his own personal thoughts on the day.

Christie's diary entry: Stage 7 – Qilian to Qingshizui, 150km
Finally, the last high altitude day is done here in Qinghai Lake – a 150km stage that climbed to 3,800m in elevation. Since the start I haven't felt great. I've had dizziness and just can't ride like I normally would like to, but today was the first day I felt a little bit like my normal self on the bike.

The stage was really pretty good with another day of decent weather. One issue for me from today was the helicopter, which was far too close to us while racing. I remember an incident two years ago where a helicopter caused a crash by being too close to the race and it left a Katusha rider out for an entire season. I'd hate for the same thing to happen again and especially here.

Anyway, with the stage done we now undertake a 212km transfer to the next town, where we will spend the night. It will be a short night's rest before one of the biggest days here tomorrow which is 235km, followed by a 440km transfer to the next town – yes, that's a 675km day for those keeping score at home. It will make for probably a 12-hour day of travel in total.

I wouldn't say the long transfers immediately following a race is the most enjoyable thing about racing, but we do get to see some of this incredible countryside.

Until next time, stay tuned...
-Jason Christie

Stage 7 Classification
1. Federico Zurlo, ITA, Lampre-Merida, 3:41:37
2. Jahir Perez, COL, Ningxia Sports Lottery-Focus Cycling Team, s.t.
3. Hamid Pourhashemi, IRI, Pishgaman Cycling Team, 0:02

General Classification
1. Vitaliy Buts, UKR, Kolss-BDC, 17:12:16
2. Sergiy Lagkuti, UKR, Kolss-BDC, s.t.
3. Alberto Cecchin, ITA, Team Roth, 0:22

Classification Leaders
Race Leader (Yellow Jersey): Vitaliy Buts, UKR, Kolss-BDC
Points Leader (Green Jersey): Vitaliy Buts, UKR, Kolss-BDC
Mountains leader (Polka Dot Jersey): Mauricio Ortega, COL, RTS-Santic
Best Asian Rider (Blue Jersey): Zhandos Bizhigitov, KAZ, Vino 4ever SKO
Most Aggressive: Jahir Perez, COL, Ningxia Sports Lottery-Focus Cycling Team
Teams classification: Kolss-BDC, 77:20:40

Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to NZ Bike Magazine. Image credit Adrian Hoe / Tour of Qinghai Lake. 

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