Former Giro d’Italia stage runner-up Maximiliano Richeze presented Team Nippo its first Tour of Japan stage win from a clean bunch sprint in Mino city (Gifu Prefecture) today, following the calculated capture of a plucky local duo who gave their utmost to run away with the spoils.
Images: Sonoko Tanaka
Champion System’s Will Clarke began today’s second stage – the longest of this 15th edition of Tour of Japan, at 160.7km – with a 2″ lead over Cheung King Lok (Hong Kong National Team) after winning yesterday’s prologue. Having raced only 2.65km on day one, 61 other starters lining up in the historic town also had a mathematical chance of snaring the leader’s green jersey by the end of the stage.
Three intermediate sprints (with a 3″, 2″ and 1″ time bonus for first, second and third place, respectively) and a final time bonus of 10″ for the stage win meant Clarke’s advantage over closely-placed sprinters such as Richeze, Chan Jae Jang (Terengganu Cycling Team), Taiji Nishitani (Aisan Racing Team) and Adiq Othman (Champion System) was particularly tenuous.
“All right lads, let’s get on with it, eh?” OCBC’s Sea Keong Loh gives Terengganu Cycling Team’s Shahrul Mat Amin a bit of gentle ribbing before the start.
After 11.6 kilometers of racing, the 93 starters had their first inspection of the finish line, having earlier emerged from the neutralized zone roughly halfway around a 21.3 kilometer circuit they would complete a further seven times. A disciplined peloton held largely in check through the first lap, finally becoming animated at the first intermediate sprint, won by Team Nippo’s Mauro Richeze. Genesys Wealth Advisers’ key sprinter, Anthony Giacoppo, had not started the day due to illness, so it must have been reassuring for the Australian Continental squad to see Patrick Shaw (Genesys) second behind Richeze, whilst Kwok Ho Ting (Hong Kong National Team) placed third.
On the ascent to the category three KOM summit, Yusuke Hatanaka (Shimano Racing) and Makoto Nakamura (Utsunomiya Blitzen) quickly built a 1’30” gap over the main field, whilst Shota Saito (Team Ukyo), attempted to bridge. Hatanaka surged ahead of Nakamura to claim the first KOM points of this year’s race, then fell behind Nakamura’s wheel whilst the Utsunomiya Blitzen rider urged the pair forward.
Behind the accelerating duo, Saito fruitlessly searched the rider-less horizon ahead. After a quick check over his shoulder, Saito glimpsed Clarke’s Champion System team spearheading a fast-moving peloton. Realizing his fate, the former teammate of Nakamura sat up and waited to rejoin the group.
The two leaders continued to pull time out of the peloton, generating a 3’00” lead as they passed through the halfway point of the course. Champion System’s Xu Gang and Jiao Peng Da toiled tirelessly on behalf of their team captain, but only produced marginal gains; it was not until Nippo and Genesys chipped in that the leaders’ gap started to fall more dramatically. A few kilometers into the second last lap, Nippo’s urgency had Hatanaka and Nakamura’s lead all sewn up.
A cheeky counter-attack by Cheung King Lok energized the race again. After quickly establishing a 35″ gap on the flat mid-section, the individual pursuit specialist appeared to tire as he wrestled his bike up the KOM for the second-last time. Once over the summit, his lead again grew to 30″.
Cheung King Lok’s credentials as a solo strongman appeared not to phase Team Nippo. With the foundation of a solid team performance at the recent Tour de Korea, where the Japanese-registered squad set up lead sprinter Max Richeze for two top-three stage finishes and third overall, Nippo hunted down the Hong Kong national track rider with 10 kilometers remaining, thus clearing the road ahead for a bunch sprint. It was a clean win for Richeze, with Matrix Powertag’s Mariusz Wiesiak and Shaw claiming second and third.
Individual General Classification (Green jersey): Maximiliano Richeze (Team Nippo)
Points Classification (Blue jersey): Maximiliano Richeze (Team Nippo)
King of the Mountains Classification (Red jersey): Yusuke Hatanaka (Shimano Racing Team)
Teams General Classification: Champion System Pro Cycling Team
STAGE 2 RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE TWO
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