Can a 150 meter climb be a decisive element of a 148 kilometer stage? Surely not! What if those 148 kilometers were the aggregate of a 12.2km circuit completed 12 times, with that same climb featuring on every lap? That might hurt.
Consider this: of the 89 starters that clipped in today at 08:45 local time, 20 failed to finish the stage. Expressed as a percentage, 22.5% of the entire peloton has been disqualified from starting stage four. How did this happen? Blame it on that climb, and these two:
Images: Sonoko Tanaka
Prologue winner Will Clarke (Champion System Pro Cycling Team) and Yeung Ying Hon (Hong Kong National Team) kick-started today s third stage with a daring break 30 kilometers into the race. The duo s hard-earned gap, which became increasingly reliant on Clarke s horsepower as Yeung Ying Hon tired, grew to 3 00 before the head of the peloton began splintering.
Will Clarke and Yeung Ying Hon were left to their own devices for a while, but frustrated riders in the bunch behind started to break off and chase.
Having slipped into one of the breaks that converged (with Clarke and Yeung Ying Hon) into a group of 33 lead riders, including race leader Maximiliano Richeze, Team Nippo s Juli n Arredondo Moreno and Fortunato Baliani somehow got away with one of the rarest forms of breakaway; the two-up team time trial.
Cycling iQ snuck out for an afternoon ride with a good mate at the stage s halfway point but, thanks to Will Clarke, Ryota Nishizono (Bridgestone Anchor) and Andrea Tonti* (Team Manager, Team Nippo), it s possible to find out what unfolded.
INSIGHT FROM THE PELOTON
Will Clarke (Champion System Pro Cycling Team) | 27th in today s stage; 18th on GC at 8 16
I was in a breakaway (with Yeung Ying Hon) pretty early. We worked well for the first lap but then he was sitting on a lot. After that, I basically just waited for the next group to come. About 15 riders came across. We (Champion System) had three riders in the group, which looked pretty good for us, but then nothing really happened. Then another group of about 30 came across and more attacks happened. People would get dropped on the climb but then they would get back on during the descent, because things shut down on the second half of the lap It happened like that on a lot of the laps.
Then a few guys (the final group of 13) just rolled off the front, and we had one in it. I could see a couple of Nippo guys in the break away actually Cameron (Wurf) was the one who attacked at about the 90 kilometer mark and they (Arrendondo Moreno and Baliani ) followed him. I was at the front, but then guys were jumping ahead of me and I was a bit slow to react. Maybe I was a bit tired after being in the break earlier. We just needed more numbers than we had.
Cameron told me his chase group was mucking around a lot and it wasn t terribly organized, but it was like that in my group also. Many riders further back were happy with what was going on up the road. We tried to chase to get a couple of our riders in it but it was too late in the end. It was a lot of laps up a pretty hard climb. Yesterday, Xu Gang and Jiao Peng Da were on the front for a lot of yesterday s stage, and I think they needed recovery today too.
Cameron will be the main guy for stage four [Note: The 11.4 kilometer hill climb up Mount Fuji on Friday] and the GC. Chris Butler also goes well on the steep climbs. It s going to be a tough call. Cameron s not a bad time-trialist, so he can tough it out for the 30 minutes it should take, but whether it s enough to put two minutes into Nippo it s going to be a hard ask, I think. (Thomas) Lebas is climbing well, too. I think half of the riders that stayed off the front today are also the best climbers in this race.
I think Champion System is one of the strongest teams here, but Nippo has been doing better on the harder courses, like today. Perhaps other teams are looking at us more closely (as the only ProContinental team at Tour of Japan) but I don t think the (rest of the) course will be hard enough to be make a difference.
I don t have quite the same form as I had in January. The prologue was just holding power for three minutes, which doesn t really count. I ve had a knee problem for the last month but it seems to be coming right now. I haven t done a lot of training before this race, so a solo breakaway like that one at the Tour Down Under it ll take me a bit more time before I can do something like that again, I think!
Ryota Nishizono (Bridgestone Anchor) | 29th in today s stage; 26th on GC at 8 32
The hardest part today came from the riders, not the hills. Especially Baliani and Arredondo Moreno; they were always at the front and they continued attacking. Their legs seemed infinite! They were too strong and the downhill was quite technical. The last 13-rider escape was decided on the downhill not on the climb.
I think Team Nippo is the strongest team in the race. Usually they have Italian races during this time of year, but because of the European economic crisis there are fewer races; so they come here with a very strong squad. Usually Team Nippo has several Japanese riders at Tour of Japan, but there are only two this year. So, Nippo has several strong riders from overseas this year.
Nippo has a very strong team, so breaking them down in Izu (5th stage) will be very difficult. At Mount Fuji, team strength will have almost no meaning, so it is our best chance. Thomas (Lebas) is very strong on steep hills and he showed his strength today, so naturally he will be the leader of our team at Mount Fuji. Historically at Mount Fuji, the time gaps have been in minutes, not seconds. If Thomas is strong enough, he can probably beat the Nippo riders. I know it s very difficult, but Thomas will try hard. Without his effort to cut down the time gap at Mount Fuji, we cannot win overall. Mount Fuji is our best chance. That s our strategy for the race.
The best Japanese rider currently is Yuzuru Suzuki [Note: currently in 6th place on GC, riding for Shimano Racing Team] but Shimano Racing doesn t have team strength. Maybe our team is the strongest in the hill climbs Miyataka Shimizu, Kenji Itami and myself are very strong in hill climbs. Aisan Racing Team are good at sprinting usually, with (Taiji) Nishitani, but they are not so good at climbing.
There are always very big crowds at races like Tour of Japan, Japan Cup and in Utsunomiya. But at races like the JBCF (Japan Bicyclist Club Federation) series, many crowds don t know much about cycle racing. They go just to see strange people on bicycles! (Laughs). Japan needs to make a bigger effort to make people more aware of cycling.
Andrea Tonti | Team Manager, Team Nippo (Riders 1st, 2nd, 10th, 17th, 35th and 37th on GC)
On Team Nippo s strategy before today s stage:
Make a hard race and win the race. (Arredondo Moreno and Baliani) broke away at about 10 km from the finish line. Bridgestone-Anchor and Champion System were working the hardest to catch them, I think. [Andrea felt that, after Team Nippo, Bridgestone-Anchor is the strongest team at the Tour of Japan]
On his rider s prospects at the Mount Fuji hill climb on Friday:
In my opinion, Baliani can make a better result but I hope to see both (Arredondo Moreno and Baliani) in first and second position on Mount Fuji.
On Team Nippo s Japanese heart and Italian soul
We are trying to bring our experience inside a Japanese group because they need to improve their knowledge in mechanical, organizing and massage matters. The Japanese also need experience in European races, so we try to transfer our knowledge to them in all these matters. I think (the level of Japanese cyclists) can grow a lot. I look at many young cyclists, (and they are) very interesting. This growth will surely be faster if accompanied by an Italian background, I think.
LEADERBOARD Individual General Classification (Green jersey): Juli n David Arredondo Moreno (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: Team Nippo
Left to right: Race leader Juli n David Arredondo Moreno (Team Nippo), KOM leader Yusuke Hatanaka (Shimano Racing Team), Points leader Maximiliano Richeze (Team Nippo), Cute mascot leader, Smiling Green Cat
STAGE 3 RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE THREE