2012 Tour of Japan stage 1: Sakai ITT | Cycling iQ

2012 Tour Down Under stage winner Will Clarke has given his Champion System Pro Cycling team a much-needed victory in its home region, winning today s Tour of Japan prologue in Sakai. Better yet, teammate Cameron Wurf placed second, cementing the Chinese team s favourite status on merit of its second-division cachet.

Images: Sonoko Tanaka

The one-two from Clarke and Wurf really was a case of double happiness for Champion System s sponsor, the Hong Kong-based cycle clothing manufacturer of the same name. Not only did Champion System land two riders on the podium today, it also supplied leader s jerseys to the race (and pretty much every other UCI-sanctioned road cycling race in Asia).

Asia s only ProContinental squad wasn t able to claim Clarke s surprise WorldTour stage win in Australia earlier this year, as it came whilst he was on loan to the UniSA team. Regardless, Clarke s Tour of Japan rivals should take note of how the Tasmanian rider sealed that Tour Down Under stage two victory in Stirling; by way of a stunning long-range attack, in which he held off an entire peloton (containing Grand Tour stage winners) for 148 kilometers of which the last half was on his own. In other words, not only can Clarke win stages in big races, he can do it whilst grinding down an entire field of the world s best cyclists, solo.

With four of Tour of Japan s remaining five stages looking best suited to a bunch sprint, Clarke s team will need to do more than just guard the field with an iron fist for the remainder of the week in order to keep the green leader s jersey bonus time won in bunch kicks will quickly erode the few seconds currently between Clarke and sprinters such as Max Richeze (Team Nippo) and Anthony Giacoppo (Genesys Wealth Advisors). Champion System has come to Japan to win, so the team may again need to call on Clarke to repeat his feat from January.

Tour of Japan s 160.7 kilometer second stage kicks off on Tuesday, so all teams will have the opportunity to fine-tune game plans during tomorrow s transfer to Mino in Gifu Prefecture, 250km to the northeast of Sakai.

LEADERBOARD Individual General Classification (Green jersey): William Clarke (Champion System Pro Cycling Team) Points Classification (Blue jersey): William Clarke (Champion System Pro Cycling Team) King of the Mountains Classification (Red jersey): N/A

Teams General Classification: Champion System Pro Cycling Team

Will Clarke (Champion System) focused and on his way to victory

2004 Tour of Japan overall winner Shinichi Fukushima (Terengganu Cycling Team) still has what it takes to win again.

Champion System s two Aussie weapons, Cameron Wurf and Will Clarke.

Team Nippo s Maximiliano Richeze third overall at this year s Tour de Korea and a contender for overall victory in Japan

Taiji Nishitani (Aisan Racing Team), 2009 Japanese National Road Cycling champion and fourth-placed in today s prologue

Champion System s Xu Gang off-the-boil of late, but hopefully the former Tour de Korea stage winner can establish himself again as the season progresses.

The day started with a criterium that didn t count towards the overall Tour of Japan general classification .

but it should be an excellent indicator of who to watch out for in the following days.