Seoul Cycling Team’s Ho Sung Cho garnished his 39th birthday cake with a sprinkle of victory in today’s 7th Tour de Korea stage. Cho’s third UCI AsiaTour stage win this season took place in front of his wife and daughter, who stood with a ‘Happy Birthday Dad’ sign alongside her father on the podium.
IMAGES: Aaron Lee (Official Tour de Korea race photographer) & Tour de Korea
Time with family has been sparse for Cho in recent years. Two years ago, the veteran Korean cyclist flew to the UCI’s World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Switzerland for a year-long build up to the Men’s Omnium in the 2012 London Olympics. He would finish 11th in that race, but he was described by WCC Coach Jacky Mourioux beforehand as “one of six riders capable of winning the Omnium at the Games, and he is one of them. He trains hard and accepts to suffer when racing. He has all the qualities of a champion.”
Cho crossed the finish line ahead of Eric Sheppard (OCBC Singapore Pro Cycling Team); the pair had earlier been part of a five-man group – comprising Johann Van Zyl (MTN), Tanzou Tokuda (PPO), Muradjan Halmuratov (RTS), Sheppard (TSI), and Cho (SCT) – which broke free of the peloton with 10km remaining. Inside 3km to go, the duo took their chance and attacked. “Sheppard and I were cooperating in some way in the final three kilometres” explained Cho. “We helped each other. I started my sprint with 200m to go.”
Meanwhile, a pared-down Rapha Condor JLT squad, with only three riders remaining, rode their hearts and legs out for incumbent race leader Michael Cuming. Cuming himself was hopeful going into today’s 145.1km stage – which, with a Cat 1 and Cat 2 climb, was expected to further unsettle the overall rankings – but never expressed complete assuredness about his ability to retain the lead; but that’s exactly what he and his team did, much to their delight and surprise.
“We did it.” expressed a relieved Cuming after finishing today’s stage in 25th place, 14″ behind Cho and Sheppard. “It was a bit of a mission: impossible really. With the help of ‘all’ my two teammates we just about hung onto it. It’s pretty special. Richard Handley did the best ride I’ve ever seen, ever.”
Choe Hyeongmin (Geunsam Insam Cello) regained the lead in the climber’s classification, by being first across both of the stage’s categorised climbs. He now has a two point lead over the pervious leader Feng Chunkai (Champion System Pro Cycling Team).
HOW THE STAGE UNFOLDED
On a busy street in Yangyang, sweltering under a thick blanket of cloud cover, 88 riders contemplated the stage that lay ahead. Michael Cuming had a lot on his mind, not the least of which was a lead of just 12 seconds. For the man in the yellow jersey it wasn’t a question of when he would be attacked, but by how many of the four major teams that stood to gain from his dethroning.
Initially, he was cut some slack. The first major action came 3.5km into the seventh stage when a lone rider sprang into the first Cat 1 climb; a 34km affair topping out at 1,103 metres. Almost four kilometres sans attack is unheard of in the 2013 Tour de Korea, but Cuming was vigilant at the front and never more than four wheels from the pointy end. He made certain the second breakaway would fail by attaching himself to the nine-rider acceleration that also contained Cecchin (PPO) in the sky blue jersey.
Calm restored, the peloton plodded up a gradient better suited to a rouleur than a climbing specialist. The winner of Stage 3, Liu Hao (Max Success Sports), liked what he saw and got going inside the 10km mark. Ever-present in such breakaways, MTN-Qhubeka sent van Niekerk after Liu. Seo followed for KSPO, drawing Lee Seung Kwon (SCT) and Thomas Rabou (TSI) from the main field. The five-man move was bolstered with the eventual stage winner Cho Ho Sung (SCT), Tom Soladay (OPM), Julián Arredondo (PPO), Othman (CSS), Scotson (AUS) and the former polka dot jersey: Choe Hyeongmin (Geumsan Insam Cello). At the base of the final first category climb of the race, Feng Chun Kai (CSS) – just 2 points ahead of Choe in the Climber’s Classification – was forced to respond. He towed Hiratsuka Yoshimitsu (AIS) and a points-hungry Eric Young (OPM) into the mix. The break now contained the KOM classification’s top five riders; the top four could lead by the top of Gurongryeong Mountain.
While the majority of the lead fourteen were focused on the looming summit, Young saw an opportunity to move into second in the Sprint Classification at the intervening, intermediate sprint. Team Nippo – De Rosa concurred and chased despite Arredondo’s presence in the break. Van Niekerk attempted to run interference but with Soladay leading out, Young took the maximum points and bumped Sbaragli down to third. Team Nippo – De Rosa peeled away from the front of the peloton. At the sprint point the breakaway’s advantage was 45 seconds and, with 17km of the opening climb remaining, Cuming was under real pressure.
One of two nominated GC riders for MTN-Qhubeka, van Niekerk drove the pace as the leaders crossed the official KOM start point. His tempo was initially too much for both Seoul Cycling Team riders but Cho was able to rejoin on one of the climb’s many easements. Liu, Feng and Otham took over from the South African and pushed the gap to 1:05. Richard Handley (RCJ) moved to the front of the peloton and chased for his team mate.
The same gentle gradient that allowed Cho to rejoin the break supported Handley in his attempts to reduce the deficit. Further up the road, Young, Seo, Cho and Lee were dropped. Sung Baek Park (KSPO) saw opportunity in the lull and launched up the hill after the breakaway. One of his countrymen from the Korean National Team, Jang Kyung Gu, was able to match pedal strokes and they bridged with 4km left to climb.
Handley and Cuming borrowed from their finite reserves to close in on the front of the race. The white jersey Cheung King Lok (HKG), Louis Meintjes (MTN), Taiji Nishitani (AIS), Artur Fedosseyev (KAZ) and Muhamad Rauf Nur Misbah (MAS) weren’t going to miss a free ride to the front. With 1km to the KOM, Cheung tested Cuming’s resolve and went ahead alone. Only nine riders could handle his rhythm; Cuming wasn’t among them. The white jersey crossed the summit fifth wheel and in the virtual lead of the race. Choe and then Feng dueled for the win. The former was first, drawing level with the polka dot jersey on 44 points. The new group of ten collaborated where possible in between the switchbacks of the 7km descent, quickly putting 1:20 into Cuming. Another 35 seconds were added on the downhill run to the 70km mark where the route began to climb again.
Cheung, forced to take sole responsibility for the breakaway’s progress, conceded half a minute. He laboured at the head of the race for 10km where Choe marked the start of the next KOM (a Category 2 climb) with a brutal turn of speed. Feng and Otham had no choice but to try and drag him back but it was MTN-Qhubeka who picked up Choe’s gauntlet. Back in the peloton, Christina Watches-Onfone could bear the threat to their third place in the general classification (Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez) no longer. The Danish and British team’s interests temporarily aligned.
Choe was first to the top of the second category climb, easily beating Feng by 24 seconds. Jersey secured, his smash and grab raid complete, the Geumsan Insam Cello rider was content to drift back to the peloton. Cheung struggled to motivate the rest of his escape and Cuming encountered the same issue 2:05 down the road. The Rapha Condor JLT rider was more persuasive, taking 30 seconds from Cheung as both groups climbed to the 100km mark.
Another technical descent followed and robbed the Tour de Korea of a genuine animator in Liu Hao who suffered a suspected collarbone fracture in a frightening crash. The loss of altitude favoured the chasing peloton, however, and at the perigee of the profile’s parabola Cuming was just 40 seconds in arrears. Cheung dug in. On a 100m kicker with 25km to go, Meintjes realised the breakaway was on borrowed time. The Under-23 time trial and road champion for South Africa gained 16 seconds on the white jersey group over the first 5km of his escape. Yet again, Cheung responded, honouring the white jersey and halving Meintjes’ advantage.
For the first time in two hours, Michael Cuming could see the head of the race. Jang (KOR) got there before the yellow jersey could reach it, however, and worked with Meintjes past the 15km sign. A charging peloton needed a further 3km to neutralise the move but the inevitable counter-attack proved decisive. Johann Van Zyl (MTN), Eric Sheppard (TSI), Tokuda Tanzou (PPO), Muradjan Halmuratov (RTS) and Cho Ho Sung (SCT) created a six second lead with 10km remaining. The gap wavered around the 30-second mark for the next 7km. Cho kicked again and only Sheppard stayed on his wheel. They cleared the final rise with a 75m advantage and, at 200m to go, Cho lit the afterburners, leading to the line from the front. Halmuratov edged-out van Zyl for third.
With Cuming’s fragile advantage over Cheung King Lok on GC, and Feng Chun Kai (CSS) trailing Hyeongmin Choe (Geumsan Insam Cello) by two points in the KOM classification, two important questions now linger ahead of the eighth and final stage (profile here) of the 1,077.4km Tour de Korea, starting at 10:00 on Sunday 16th. Attack or be attacked? Procession or progression? Possibilities also still exist for solo specialists to make a bid for glory and, in particular, for the local teams to demonstrate some panache in front of a national TV audience.
Conditions in Hanam are forecast to be fine tomorrow, with temperatures from 18-32°C.
Cheung King Lok (Hong Kong China Team) | 35th in stage 7, 2nd on GC at 0:12”
“I just did it myself on the mountains. I did attack on the mountain with the first group but we didn’t have the Aisan Racing Team or Christina Watches-Onfone; so they chased the leading group. If their teams had one GC guy in the lead group it’s okay but they didn’t. They chased the lead group and I finished in the peloton. It’s still good.
The (breakaway) sometimes helped but because this is a tough day they also were exhausted. They tried hard already, this group.
I still hope to try and get the yellow jersey. In the first half we will have many attacks, maybe one group ahead. They will need to chase that. If we have Christina Watches-Onfone and the Aisan Racing Team (in the first group) then it’s okay. It could lead to a perfect chance.”
Michael Cuming (Rapha Condor JLT) | 25th in stage 7, 1st on GC
“We did it. It was a bit of a mission: impossible really. With the help of ‘all’ my two teammates we just about hung onto it. It’s pretty special. Richard Handley did the best ride I’ve ever seen, ever.
We got some really nice help from Christina Watches-Onfone. They were protecting their interests because the MTN (MTN-Qhubeka) rider was away in the break. They were trying to pull him back so that really worked out well for us as well. They were really strong as well.
I was feeling alright, and then suddenly with 40km to go, the gap started going out again. I though, ‘phwoar’ let’s just get this back. This is starting to hurt.
The plan will be to try and keep it tomorrow. Obviously the white jersey is going to attack again. He’ll put us under pressure. Hopefully we’ll be able to hang onto it. It was a good day for us today. A tiring day but a good day.”
Ho Sung Cho (Seoul Cycling Team) | 1st in stage 7, 60th on GC at 54:28”
On the first category climb I thought, ‘if I don’t get into the breakaway group I won’t win.’ It’s my birthday today and there’s only one stage remaining so I was more aggressive than usual today.
Sheppard (OCBC Singapore Continental Cycling Team) and I were cooperating in some way in the final three kilometres. We helped each other. I started my sprint with 200m to go.”
CLASSIFICATION LEADERS AFTER STAGE 7
Individual General Classification (Yellow jersey): Michael Cuming (Rapha Condor JLT)
Points Classification (Blue jersey): Alberto Cecchin (Team Nippo – De Rosa)
Young Rider Classification (White jersey): Cheung King Lok (Team Hong Kong China)
King of the Mountains Classification (Polka-Dot jersey): Hyeongmin Choe (Geumsan Insam Cello)
Teams General Classification: MTN-Qhubeka
STAGE 7 RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE EIGHT