The breakaway survived for a third successive day in Korea but this time the bunch was breathing down the neck of Stage 3 winner Liu Hao. The Max Success Sports (MSS) rider typically calls the boards of China’s track scene home and it was through sheer force of will that the omnium specialist survived by a scant 25 metres on Jukryeong Mountain.
IMAGES: Aaron Lee (Official Tour de Korea race photographer)
Liu began the Cat 2 uphill finish with the peloton, 16” behind two riders – Dennis van Niekerk (MTN-Qhubeka) and Kisuk Lee (Korean National Team) – who remained ahead from an earlier, dramatic, escape. The Korean faltered in the lower slopes and Liu accelerated past him to catch the South African just inside the 5km KOM marker. On a climb described by many post-stage as surprisingly easy, it was the larger rider who prevailed.
The Hong Kong, China National Team, tasked with protecting the lead in the general classification for Cheung King Lok, withered on two Cat 4 climbs. Together with Nippo – De Rosa (PPO) they attempted to contain the damage wrought by van Niekerk (MTN), Thomas Rabou (OCBC Singapore Continental Cycling Team), Richard Handley (Rapha Condor JLT), Lee (KOR) and KOM jersey-wearer Feng Chun Kai (Champion System Pro Cycling Team). In the final 50km, the Yellow Jersey’s team made inroads and Nippo attempted to promote the omnipresent Julián Arredondo (PPO) to a victory.
Cheung finished in the lead group behind winner Liu (MSS) and now leads the new second place man, Taijii Nishtani (Aisan Racing Team) by 2:18, after teammate Chan Yat Wai (HKG) lost 2:29 on the climb. Norwegian Frederik Wilmann (Christina Watches-Onfone) edged out Arredondo for the minor places on the podium.
MTN-Qhubeka continued their impressive run at Tour de Korea; van Niekerk animated the breakaway, Louis Meintjes was the stage’s best young rider in fourth and Sbaragli climbed into fifth position. The top five of the general classification has two new members in Seo (KSP) and 21-year-old Australian Eric Sheppard (TSI), who both move from the top ten into fourth and fifth respectively on the merits of their climbing.
HOW THE STAGE UNFOLDED
The opening hours of the stage were run on dual carriageway and the flag fall was met by a charging peloton. Nothing was allowed to escape for very long as the bunch was extruded into a single column at average speeds over 50km/h. Approaching the intermediate sprint point at 35.1km it was Stage 2 winner Eric Young (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) sharing the front with Nippo-De Rosa. In a throw for the line Ken Hanson (OPM) eked a tyre width ahead of Kyoung Ho Park (Seoul Cycling Team) and Stage 2 star Joon Young Seo (KSPO).
At the 40km mark, and with 125km left to race, the eventual victor went ahead of the peloton. Liu’s move drew van Niekerk , Mart Ojavee (CSS) and Jeremy Durrin (OPM) out of hiding. His move was quickly marked by the bunch, then another move of three expired even faster, before a dozen riders suffered the same fate in the foothills of the first Cat 4 climb.
Onto the climb proper and Team Nippo – De Rosa dictated the pace. Feng Chun Kai (CSS) responded to the early accelerations in the Polka Dots but trailed Heong Min Choe (Geumsan Insam Cello), Artur Fedosseyev (Kazakhstan National Team) and van Niekerk over the summit. Choe and van Niekerk got ahead on the technical descent, chased by Feng, Handley (RCJ), Ki Suk Lee and Kyung Gu Jang (both KOR), Soon Yeong Kwon and Choong Hyuk Shin (both KSP). Chan Jae Jang (CSS) and Marukhin (KAZ) made the break an even ten.
The leaders started the second Cat 4 with a 23 second advantage. KSPO and Marukhin orchestrated a pace that saw the peloton’s deficit grow to 1:00 at the summit. The second KOM results mirrored the first down to third where Feng salvaged a single point. Choe had secured the KOM classification with 83.3km left to run. Handley (RCJ) momentarily lost contact on the climb and had to use the twisting 200m vertical drop to rejoin.
The group of ten shared the pacemaking to protect their lead and another six riders began the journey across the gap. Nozomu Kimori (AIS), Thomas Rabou and Jason Christie (both TSI), Tom Soladay (OPM), Tomohiro Hayakawa (PPO) and Fedosseyev (KAZ) bolstered the head of the race to 16 riders and pushed the separation out to a minute at the 100km mark.
Their lead grew steadily until 118km into the race where the in-fighting began. Lee (KOR), Jang (KOR) and van Niekerk (MTN) all attempted to get away. The Korean National Team simply refused to idle in the break and it was Lee who finally created some space for himself. Rabou (TSI) covered him quickly along with van Niekerk and Feng. What had become the chase group rapidly lost time. Handley (RCJ) and Kwon (KSP) sensed their ship was sinking and dived in after the front four. The rider from Great Britain worked tirelessly and singlehandedly pulled back the forward paceline over ten brutal kilometres, ejecting Kwon from his slipstream in the process.
Over the remaining 15km before the KOM the dregs of the breakaway were cleaned up by the peloton which let the leaders have 2:25 of rope with which to hang themselves. Hong Kong and Nippo – De Rosa charged to the base of Jukryeong Mountain and wiped two minutes from the break. Van Niekerk and Lee threw everything at it as the peloton crossed the start of the 7.4km Cat 2. Lee was consumed by the peloton and Hao Liu (MSS) jumped toward van Niekerk, caught him, and narrowly held the bunch at bay. The surprisingly moderate nature of the climb allowed a lanky Liu to win in Yeongju. Had more riders known it was so mild the result may have been very different.
Tomorrow’s fourth stage features one category 3 climb at the midway point, leading into a jagged second-half profile. With many strong breakaway riders well outside GC contention, this may be their one and only chance to get away for a stage victory.
Liu Hao (Max Success Sports) | 1st in stage 3; 21st on GC at 06’52”
“I am not good as climber because I’m too heavy. I’m a track rider, an omnium rider,” said a delighted Liu on the finish line. “I attacked with about 500m left. I saw the peloton coming and I thought it was time to go.”
Cheung King Lok (Hong Kong China Team) | 19th in stage 3; 1st on GC
“I have to say thanks to my teammates because they worked very hard to control the race. At first I thought this would be a difficult stage because in the middle we had two little mountains which caused some issues with the team’s work. After those climbs (my team) started leading again to control the race and keep me with the lead group on the final climb. This was a 7km climb but in the first four or five it wasn’t that steep. There I felt I was still okay. In the next two or three stages are the important ones.”
Kristian Sbagarli (MTN-Qhubeka) | 5th in stage 3; 7th on GC at 3’48”
“The team went very well but we didn’t know that this climb was not that steep,” said the Sky Blue Jersey. My opinion was that it was too steep so I started this morning without real ambition for this stage. In the finale I thought: ‘okay we can try to do a sprint’. Unluckily Dennis was caught with just 200m to go.”
CLASSIFICATION LEADERS AFTER STAGE 3
Individual General Classification (Yellow jersey): Cheung King Lok (Team Hong Kong China)
Points Classification (Blue jersey): Kristian Sbaragli (MTN-Qhubeka)
Young Rider Classification (White jersey): Cheung King Lok (Team Hong Kong China)
King of the Mountains Classification (Polka-Dot jersey): Hyeong Min Choe (Geumsan Insam Cello)
Teams General Classification: Aisan Racing Team
STAGE 3 RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE THREE