On paper, the Tour de Korea progressed today. After yesterday’s fourth stage was cancelled, every stakeholder – the riders, officials, organizers, sponsors, media and fans – in this year’s Tour de Korea hoped for a great race. The convoy rolled out amidst the promised fine weather and the stage finished status quo ante amongst the classification leaders. On the roads, everything went horribly, traumatically, wrong; and the race’s revitalised lustre immediately blackened.
IMAGES: Aaron Lee
21 team cars ground to a halt. In the jumble of bikes and riders ahead, it had taken only two right-hand turns for the race’s image to be turned completely around again. Less than one kilometre into the 6.7 kilometre neutral zone of stage five, a local motorbike marshal had rammed into Jaan Kirsipuu’s (Champion System Pro Cycling Team) Fuji racing bike so hard, that its carbon fibre wheel had broken into four pieces. Remarkably, the robust Estonian was not injured, but two elderly pedestrians suffered minor injuries.
Satisfied the altercation was not sufficient to enforce exceptional measures, race officials resumed the stage almost 30 minutes behind schedule. Kyung Go Jang (Arbö Gebruder Weiss-Orbendorfer), Emerson Oronte (Jelly Belly Cycling) and Hyeong Min Choe (Geumsan Ginseng Cello) were the first riders to insist on a long-range break. Though they fell back without fanfare, the trio’s quick establishment of a lead seemed to entice more riders to try for themselves. 20 kilometres into the stage, and after a brisk 190m vertical gain up the uncategorized Deulmokjae Summit, riders began breaking free of the peloton and a ten-man group formed.
The pace set by Nic Hamilton (Jelly Belly Cycling), Jakub Kratochvila (Arbö Gebruder Weiss-Orbendorfer), Thomas Soladay (Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies), Kristian House and Richard Lang (both Rapha Condor-Sharp), Paul Odlin (Subway Cycling Team), Amirull Mazuki (Terengganu Cycling Team), Se Yong Oh and Ki Hong Yoo (Geumsan Ginseng Cello), combined with the stiff left-to-right tailwind, contributed to the first 50 kilometres of racing being covered in a little over an hour; by which point the ten riders were part of the main field again.
Breaks continued to ebb and flow in the strong crosswinds, and a decisive-looking split occurred in the peloton. From their position in the front echelon, twenty riders managed to pull away from the bunch, gaining 45” by the base of the day’s first categorized climb at 64 kilometres. Amongst the leading group, was Korea’s Sungbaek Park (KSPO). Demonstrating his fine climbing form, Park seized maximum points and, 39 kilometres later, he repeated the feat on the second, and final, KOM of the stage. With a seven point lead over Hyo Suk Gong (Geumsan Ginseng Cello) in the KOM classification, Park’s lead grew to an almost unassailable advantage.
As Park relentlessly pursued points high on the last KOM, an astonishing example of blood being thicker than water was taking place below. Caught in a minor squeeze at the foot of the climb, yellow jersey Chan Jae Jang (Terengganu Cycling Team) required a front wheel change. Though Chan Jae’s team car was only moments away, points leader Sun Jae Jang (Korea National Team) saw his younger brother at the side of the road – with bike in one hand and front wheel in the other – and immediately pulled over to offer his own front wheel; clearly convinced Chan Jae Jang’s victory was in jeopardy if he waited for the Terengganu team car. Knowing the acceptance of his brother’s offer could attract severe penalties, or even disqualification, Chan Jae Jang waited.
The anticipation of a bunch sprint grew as team cars sped towards their riders following delays over the KOM descent. Instead, in a twist that no one could have anticipated, the road ahead opened up to reveal a war zone. A motorbike marshal, with a photographer riding pillion on his massive Harley Davidson, had sped past the bunch, clipping Rapha Condor-Sharp’s Kristian House before losing control and smashing into the back of Yuriy Agarkov (ISD–Lampre).
Despite the high-speed impact – reported by several witnesses as being between 70-80kph – Agarkov didn’t lose his life; only several square inches of skin. The motorbike pilot and his passenger were not so fortunate; having sustained serious injuries, they were taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital.
For thirty tense minutes, the race was literally scattered across the road. Race officials fielded the views of team managers and riders sat shaking at the roadside. Eventually, it was decided that the race would continue to the finish, under the following conditions: all motorbikes, except the marshals hired from Malaysia, would be sent forward to Gumi ahead of the race, and the intermediate sprint (at 121.7km) would be cancelled.
A sombre convoy rolled towards Gumi with the peloton all together; after several riders, who were well off the back earlier, were able to rejoin post-crash. Subsequently, a large bunch came thundering towards the finish line, only for a rider to clip a right-hand barrier at 250m to go. Amidst the maelstrom, RTS Racing’s David McCann took the full impact of the barrier with his right thumb, whilst Chan Jae Jang was knocked unconscious. From a small selection of riders that were not caught in the resulting pile-up, Alexander Serebrayakov (Team Type 1 – Sanofi), held straight for a narrow win over Maximiliano Richeze (Team Nippo) and Aaron Kemps (Champion System Pro Cycling Team).
[NOTE: After such an eventful stage, there is an enormous amount to absorb. Over the next few days, this post will grow in length and detail. Images will be uploaded shortly. The status of Agarkov, David McCann, the motorbike pilot and the photographer will be shared as soon as possible. In the interim, Cycling iQ spoke to several riders during and after the stage; some of these comments are below in the “stage snippets”. Cycling iQ Twitter feed; when time allows, I will also post this feed, in full, below. Thankyou to all teams for sharing their experiences and thoughts.]
Chan Jae Jang (Terengganu Cycling Team) [via translator]
I’m feeling a lot of pain now, because of the crash. I don’t remember what happened; I lost consciousness. All I need to do right now is defend my position for the next two days and then I’ll reach my goal. I’m very determined to reach my goal.
I remember that I was on the right hand side, speeding up all the way over the top and suddenly on the left lane two riders came to the right lane, changing their position, and those two riders crashed. That’s all I remember. I don’t know who the riders were who caused the (final) crash.
My brother tried to help me change my front wheel, but if I had let him do that then I would have taken a 30” penalty or, worse, been qualified. So, I just waited on without changing wheels.
For now, I am considering every rider as an equal adversary; that is because I am only in front by 30 seconds over most riders. The rider that worries me the most is myself. Two days from now, we have the hardest stage of Tour de Korea and it is going to be so hard with my injuries that I’m worried I might not be able to make it. But I’ll try.
I’m not worried about the professionalism of the organizer’s deciding to bring in the motorbike rider that caused the crash, but I’m worried that riders from other countries might think that the Tour de Korea looks a bit unprofessional. I’m worried about the image. I’m confident that changes will be made that will make Tour de Korea more significant than it is right now.
There are some very talented riders in Korea. When I get the yellow jersey, there is one thing I’d like to say. That is many of the talented Korean riders are only residing in Korea; they are not going worldwide. I want them to have the opportunity to practice their skills outside Korea. That is what I really want.
When I was in Europe, for example, I did more than 120 races in two years. In Korea, we have only 10 races in one year. I think this is the main problem. I would like Korea to have more UCI races like Tour de Korea.
There are no top professional riders in Korea. I would like to be the first ProTour cyclist from Korea; so young riders in Korea would be inspired by this and maybe have dreams to become a rider like me one day. That kind of situation would make me the happiest; more than a single victory.
Kam Po Wong (Hong Kong National Team)
This race is another level for some of the riders. I don’t know if (Terengganu Cycling Team) can control the race until the end. If yesterday’s stage wasn’t cancelled, I think the yellow jersey might have changed already. We’re looking for a stage victory at Tour de Korea. We want to win the team overall classification. These are our objectives.
The weather yesterday was no big deal. Maybe for the safety of all riders, it was a good idea; I heard many riders say they wanted to cancel the stage. But for my team, it wouldn’t have been a problem; it would have been fine to continue.
A lot more European riders are coming to race in Asia, which educates the younger Asian riders about technical aspects and teamwork in professional cycling. European riders are still at a different level in this way. Their presence is a good thing for Asian riders. I think, in turn, European riders can gain cultural understanding from racing in Asia.
I won a stage in the Tour de Taiwan this year. The AsiaTour calendar is growing really fast so it’s no longer possible to do every race. At my age, almost 40, it was not easy to win the Asian Cycling Championships. I am hoping to race for another two or three years, depending on my fitness.
Ed Beamon, Team Manager (Champion System Pro Cycling Team) – immediately after the most serious crash
They (the officials) got warnings in the first few kilometres. They did not take control of the situation; there were two motorcycles out on the road that did exactly the same thing in the middle of the race; they still did not control the situation, and now you have this. The issue here is that the promoters refuse to talk to the teams, or talk to the people that know a little bit about the sport – and they refuse to learn.
This is the third motorbike incident today. Two motorbikes ran into each other on the race course earlier. Part of the problem is the size of the motorcycles; part of the problem is the lack of training. It’s also a lack of control; there’s an insufficient number of trained motorbike pilots to control the flow.
We should not race now. I’d like to see the stage cancelled. There’s no way they can control the situation, and now we’re going to come into the city. The riders are extremely shaken; I mean, there’s guys at the side of the road literally shaking. I’m shaking, and I’m sitting in the car!
Jaan was fine after his crash earlier. That was probably the first thing on two wheels that’s actually moved him (laughing). You know, his rear wheel was in four pieces, the guy hit him so hard. Thank God this rider (ISD’s Agarkov) is in good shape.
Kristian House – commenting on motorcycle accident, via email to Cycling iQ after the stage
(The motorbike rider) clipped me and proceeded to ride right into the ISD rider. I’d already had a go at that same Moto – I think, as it was a Harley with police stickers and a cameraman on it – as he was weaving in and out of riders on the climb, coming on the inside of us on corners… almost as if he was just having fun driving in a police enclosed area.
Never been that shaken up before; I literally thought I was dead when the Moto hit (Agarkov), high sided and I somehow missed the wreckage.
Olena Gerus, Assistant Manager (ISD-Lampre) + Yuriy Agarkov
His leg and his back were hit hard, so we’re going to the hospital to check his status. [Agarkov, from ambulance; “I didn’t notice the motorbike until it hit me from behind.”]
Zamri Saleh (Terengganu Cycling Team), commenting on final sprint
I saw a rider go from left to right – I think it was an RTS rider – and then he hit the barrier. Chan Jae finished the stage. He rolled to the finish.
Michael Friedman (Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies)
I would come back to this race, but there are several things that need to be ironed out. I think they (the organizer) are trying to develop this race too fast.
Jesse Anthony (Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies)
There’s a lot of basic pack etiquette that we’re not seeing here, like calling out things on the road.
Alexander Candelario (Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies)
The course today was great. It should have been a great stage, but they need to step up the level of motorbike riders and also use police motorbikes like they do in Langkawi.
I also think our team would come back if invited. I think the UCI needs to take a stand and make sure there are a number of rules in place for minimum standards, like the number and standards of motorbike marshals
Ken Hanson (Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies)
There has been a lot of unnecessary physical contact in this race so far. I’ve never seen guys take their hands off the bars so much to push and shove other riders
STAGE 5 RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FIVE
YOUNG RIDER CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FIVE
POINTS CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FIVE (Top 3)
1) Sun Jae Jang (Korean National Team) 10pts
2) Cheung Gyo Jeong (Geumsan Ginseng Cello) 3pts
3) Ki Ju Lee (KSPO) 3pts
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FIVE (Top 3)
1) Sungbaek Park (KSPO) 12pts
2) Hyo Suk Gong (Geumsan Ginseng Cello) 5pts
3) Kyung Gu Jang (Arbö Gebrüder Weiss-Oberndorfer) 4pts
TEAMS CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FIVE (Top 3)
1) Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies
2) Terengganu Cycling Team
3) RTS Racing Team
ASIA TEAMS CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FIVE (Top 3)
1) Terengganu Cycling Team
2) RTS Racing Team
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