• Freddy Ovett and his Australian Cycling Academy teammates congratulate each other after Stage 4 (Adrien Hoe)Source: Adrien Hoe
The 'Asian grand tour' proved a good hunting ground for Australians, with three riders from as many teams claiming victory at the Tour of Qinghai Lake.
Aaron S. Lee

6 Aug 2018 - 11:32 AM  UPDATED 6 Aug 2018 - 12:18 PM

The ‘unofficial fourth Grand Tour’ is done and dusted with the lads from Down Under riding high following stage-winning performances from Brenton Jones (Delko-Marseille Provence KTM), Cameron Scott (Australian Cycling Academy) and Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-BikeExchange).

A day after finishing fourth on the opening stage, Jones kicked things off with a sensation Stage 2 bunch sprint win on the Xining circuit, followed by Mitchelton-BikeExchange’s Jacob Hennessy of Great Britain. The 26-year-old Victorian even donned the yellow leader’s jersey for a day due to his efforts.

Jones followed up with fourth and third place finishes en route to a day spent in the green points jersey before ultimately succumbing to Stage 10 winner Dušan Rajović (Adria Mobil) of Serbia by four points on the final stage.

#Podcast Extra - Brenton Jones on the eve of Paris-Nice

Brenton Jones is originally from Jindivick in Victoria and currently riding for UCI Professional Continental team Delko–Marseille Provence KTM based in France.

Jones was already an experienced campaigner in Asia - already having stage wins at Tour of Singkarak, Tour of Japan, Tour de Taiwan, Tour of Hainan and three at Tour de Korea. However, this was Jones’s debut at Qinghai Lake — a race often referred to as the ‘highest altitude bike race in the world’ with stages averaging around 2,500 metres in elevation and peaking to 4,120m.

“First race at this altitude, great experience and I hope to have some good form after this race, it’s been great preparation for training but I think the highlight so far is definitely the Stage 2 victory,” Jones told Cycling Central prior to the Stage 11 start of the two-week, 13-stage UCI 2.HC Asia Tour road race.

"I would have liked to have achieved a few more wins by now,” he continued. “But at this level it’s a quality field and I think people gotta realise it’s not that easy to win every day and you’re human, you just got to keep trying and we’ve already got one win so we aren’t coming home with nothing.”

Jones joined the French-registered UCI Professional Continental team Delko-Marseille Provence KTM after a successful stint last season with JLT-Condor in Great Britain, where he recorded two wins in the British Tour Series. He is quite quick to profess his appreciation of his new team, due the opportunities Delko made available to the Victorian who started the year with two stage wins and a points classification at La Tropicale Amissa Bongo (2.1) in January.

“It's been fantastic this season and I’ve had a number of opportunities to race WorldTour events, like Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Nice,” he told Cycling Central. “This year has been fantastic. The calendar is great and I’m looking forward to finishing off the last half of the season really strong starting with my performance at Qinghai.”

The former Drapac Cycling and Avanti Racing rider is no stranger to success with more than a dozen wins already adorning his resumé, however after an admittedly “tough” start to 2018, Jones is keen to return to China and kick off the second half of his season on high ground.

“For me in some of the early French races I found it quite difficult,” admitted Jones. “I haven’t had much experience in European racing to be honest in the last few seasons and this year for me has been great.

“I’ve had a couple good results that have been up there, but not what I wanted so hopefully if I return next year and do some similar races I can convert those races into wins.”

Achieving results should not be a problem for Jones. The Aussie sprinter has spent the past half decade honing his skills with some of the world’s best Continental and Pro Continental squads, including Avanti Racing (now Bennelong-SwissWellness), Drapac and JLT-Condor. It’s a career progression that is not lost on Jones.

“The experience I’ve gained through the teams like Avanti, Drapac and JLT … the development I've gotten from all three teams is priceless,” he admitted. “Now I think I bring a lot more experience to my sprints and a bit more relaxed approach to some of them.

“I used to be a lot [more] tense and pretty wound up before these sprints and I’ve had a lot of good mentors across the last few years and it’s thanks to them I’m able to achieve some of the results I’m getting now at this point of my career.”

Australian Cycling Academy continues stellar season debut 

One of the newest teams on the block is Australian Cycling Academy-Ride Sunshine Coast. The UCI Continental team is a unique offering in that it literally blends professional cycling with an academic curriculum.

It's not all theoretical, the lads at ACA must be taking some applied learning from team high performance coach Stu Shaw as they have three stage wins in as many international UCI races this season, including a Stage 5 victory from Australian Olympic track hopeful Cameron Scott. Add that to a top 5 performance from runner-turned-cyclist Freddy Ovett atop the queen stage at more than 4,000m and Scott’s podium (third) in the finale, things are looking up for ACA.

“Really the biggest thing for us is watching the guys develop,” Shaw told Cycling Central. “Obviously Cameron’s stage win is a standout moment. Freddy climbing with just the Colombians left is a standout moment. We’ve been pretty happy with what we’ve achieved here and it’s more about how the guys can hold themselves and operate as a unit. We set a target each day and the guys go and deliver on it.

“We’ve done three UCI races overseas this year and we’ve won a stage in each, so for us we are really trying to put our name on the international map,” he added. “With a young team and a group of young 20, 21, 22-year-olds, getting starts is a challenge and for us to keep winning is really important for us getting more [opportunities].”

The team’s success this season — and specifically Qinghai — has played a key role in Ovett’s ascension to the WorldTour as a stagiaire for BMC Racing at this week’s Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. It was promotion that forced the son of British Olympic gold medal runner Steve Ovett to depart China five stages early despite being ninth on general classification in time to recover and join his new team in the US.

“Without this race, I don’t know if that opportunity would’ve come, so we have a lot to be thankful for,” said Shaw. “It’s a shame he needed to leave early to recover to go and do that opportunity with BMC, but we wish him the best and hopefully he can get some results and help BMC the way he rode here.”

Groves gives WorldTour ‘dev’ team biggest win in China

With a second and third-place result already registered by Brit Jacob Hennessy, China-registered Continental team Mitchelton-BikeExchange, the development squad for Australian WorldTour team Mitchelton-Scott and youngest team in the race, closed out Qinghai Lake in style with a bunch sprint win from Kaden Groves.

“After 13 stages of racing and no win we had one last chance today,” 19-year-old Groves told Cycling Central after the race. “The team has been unreal and I think we have performed well above our age and experience.

Groves moved to the feeder team in a mid-season transfer from Australian squad St George Continental.

“This is my first race in the new colours with new teammates and to win a stage of the Tour of Qinghai Lake is an awesome feeling. Closing out the tour on a high after many close calls, we trained hard and prepared as best we could for this race and I am happy to repay the team with a win after an epic team effort today.”

Groves was placed perfectly in position by Hennessy, whom he claims is the “best under-23 lead-out man in the world.”

“It was absolutely unreal for both of us to end up leaving the race with a win, especially being a Chinese team and racing here in China,” said Hennessy. “I think this might actually be our first big pro win in China.

“It was always a goal to try and get a win here,” he continued. "The first goal of the team was to get through the race healthy, and the second goal was to try and get a podium.

“The big picture for us was a win and this is the first time the team has gone to a race specifically to sprint for wins and first time me and Kaden worked together and it showed on a few stages.

“But to nail it on the last day, it’s going to be the one everyone remembers because you are only as good as your last race.”

Volkers pilots Memil-CCN teammate to stage win

In a crash-marred Stage 11 finish that brought down green jersey Luca Pacioni (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia) and Leigh Howard (Australian Cycling Academy) among others, it was Englishman Jacob Tipper (Memil-CCN) proudly producing his first pro win thanks in large part to Aussie lead-out man Samuel Volkers who paved a path out of harm’s way.

“It was all thanks to the Aussie today, Sam Volkers,” Tipper told Cycling Central. “My teammate was absolutely unreal. He changed the tactic a little bit. Normally he puts us in position and the team tries to lead out a little bit, but we’ve got some climbers and we are still trying to preserve [general classification] a little bit, and today we just said ‘Sam have a run at it’ and I’ll put faith and follow his position.

“Every little time he went right, I was thinking ‘should I go there? … I’m following him! I’m following him!’ and he put me in the perfect position, so I opened up and as soon as I opened up I saw nothing but the finish line.”

For 26-year-old Volkers, it was another day at the office — a proud one at that.

“Yesterday I was the last man before our sprinter, Jacob, and we got the stage win,” Volkers told Cycling Central prior to the Stage 12 start. “Pretty much my job was to race as if I was going for the win and he was to follow me and then if everything worked out he would take the stage — and it did.

“It was pretty much perfect, we don’t get many days it’s as perfect as that was.”

Sucking in the oxygen at 4,000 metres: The Tour of Qinghai Lake
Racing at an average altitude just shy of 3000 metres above sea level. Risking life and limb in treacherous conditions as the bunch swarms with massive prize money on the line. It's not the Tour de France, it's the Tour of Qinghai Lake. Marcus Culey of St George Continental was riding for the first time in the 13 stage event and described his experiences from one of the toughest races on the calendar.