Champion System Pro Cycling Team s Zachary Bell leveraged his sprint prowess in today s damp and mist-enshrouded sixth stage, leading home a group of 10 breakaway companions which included Rapha Condor JLT s Michael Cuming. Hong Kong s Cheung King Lok rolled in with the bunch several minutes later, handing Cuming the overall race lead with only two stages remaining.
IMAGES: Aaron Lee (Official Tour de Korea race photographer) & Tour de Korea
Bell s teammate Feng Chun Kai (CSS) regained the polka dots from Choe Hyeong Min (Guemsan Insam Cello) with a third place on the second of two categorised climbs, then turned his attention to that of a supporting role in the 62km that remained.
The longest stage of the 2013 Tour de Korea promised to agitate the yellow jersey competition after four days of severely tested stability in the hands of Team Hong Kong, China. The Queen stage of the race, however, delivered a new leader in three of the four classifications.
Michael Cuming (Rapha Condor JLT) rolled out of Pyeongchang in fifth position overall, with a 3:05 deficit to Cheung King Lok (HKG). Three hours later, acting Rapha Condor JLT directeur sportif, Tom Southam, leant out of the team car to deliver a message to the 22-year-old Briton: you re virtual yellow give it everything.
That s what I did, recalled a slightly bemused Cuming at the finish in Yangyang. His virtual lead of the race began at the 150km mark and the final margin to Cheung King Lok (HKG) was 12 seconds.
After concerns the opening descent would be neutralised due to heavy fog it was the riders themselves who dampened plans for any immediate attacks. The first came 16km in: Yasuharu Nakajima (Aisan Racing Team) drew Young (KSPO), Arredondo and Uchima (Team Nippo-De Rosa), Lee Seung Kwon (SCT) and team mate Masakazu Ito (PPO) out for the 9.9km first category climb. A chase group, closing rapidly on the descent, contained stage winner Bell and Cuming.
Erstwhile race leader Cheung King Lok (HKG) knew defending his jersey would be a lonesome task; his team having suffered to retain it thus far. Cheung would eventually pull on his fifth Best Young Rider jersey in Yangyang; a small consolation for the man who won the race s final stage in 2010.
Rapha is now tasked with repelling the attacks of Christian Watches-Onfone, Team Nippo De Rosa, Aisan Racing Team and MTN-Qhubeka; a burdensome improbability, due to the loss of Aaron Buggle and Hugh Carthy (both RCJ) to the broomwagon today. The South African MTN-Qhubeka squad, enjoying a commanding lead in the team s classification, was at the centre of each of the day s moves, but the sky blue jersey still slipped from their hands. On the upside, Dennis van Niekerk lies within 1:37 of the race lead, with Louis Meintjes also second in the Best Young Rider classification.
A final chance for meaningful time gains and disruption to the general classification comes in tomorrow s penultimate Tour de Korea stage, which also offers the same points spread to those with sprint and KOM aspirations. The initial 34km uphill phase takes riders to the race s highest peak: Gurongryeong at 1,103m. MTN-Qhubeka s dominance of the team s classification appears to be a foregone conclusion but even they will struggle to elevate Louis Meintjes to the top of the Best Young Rider competition. The rest of the jerseys are still in play. The weather is forecast to be fine, with temperatures of 18-24 C.
Zachary Bell (Champion System Pro Cycling Team) | 1st in stage 6; 42nd on GC @ 20:38
It split (on the second KOM). About five guys went and partially that was (Fen) Kai going for the KOM points. For me I m climbing better than I have in my whole career now so, on both KOM s today, I knew how hard I could go up them because of how I ve done them this past week. I knew they were either going to put 15 minutes into me or I was only going to have 10 or 15 seconds to make up on both of them.
On the first one I rode like a banshee to get back on, about 15km as hard as I could. On that second one I knew they were going to hammer it but also that the descent was a bit more technical and if I rode it reasonably quick I could probably get down to the bottom where it straightened out. A big, fat guy like me can take 10 seconds back on some of those climbers then.
When we got over the climb, I knew there wasn t anything that these guys should be able to do. Unless it started going gangbusters and attacking like crazy and we screwed something up, me and Chun Kai are both pretty strong in these kind of finishes; I knew we would be able to cover just about anything. As long as the group stayed motivated I was keen to keep working. At 10km to go we had Kai doing work and in those kinds of situations he is worth two guys anyway. I knew nobody would be too frustrated (at me missing the odd turn) because we had been working all day and they were expecting it. I got to be able to sit back a bit. It s a nice thing when you have a good kick you can be like: well you guys have got to drop me. Things really played into my favour again. That s the way you ve got to win at these races, a few things have to go your way.
We re still here for stage wins. With Kai in the KOM jersey we re going to try and fight to defend that but it s going to be a big battle. He s riding really well. There are probably only a couple of guys in our team who can really help him with that. We d love to get another stage and there are two more good stages for our team. We showed in the Team Time Trial yesterday that we ve got five really strong guys. We ll keep getting the right combinations and try it from there. It s so out of control that you ve got to go in with a plan and then within the first 20km you ve got to adjust that plan. We have five smart guys here too so it was just a matter of time until one went our way. Hopefully we get another couple but it s going to be some more hard racing, that s for sure.
Cheung King Lok (Hong Kong China Team) | 30th in stage 6, 2nd on GC at 0:12
I think before the stage (my team) had used a lot of power to keep my jersey. Today I had already prepared myself to try and keep it by myself. Even though my teammates helped me I already was prepared for that. After the first KOM I was still in the first group but after we grouped together again they attacked me. I was also prepared for this. I was already very tired after the mountain. I needed some time to rest myself, but I needed also to keep the time to the leaders stable.
After the last mountain they worked very fast together. I tried to use my time trial power to keep the time level but, five seconds five seconds five seconds it just got longer.
Aisan Racing Team were working with me. After 100km they worked with me and I have lots of power from them. They helped me to keep second position. They also tried their best and me too. I think the Rapha Condor rider deserves the jersey. I will try (to take the Yellow Jersey back). I don t know if I can or not. I will try my best just like today.
Michael Cuming (Rapha Condor JLT) | 10th in stage 6, 1st on GC
We wanted to get over the Cat 1 in a fairly decent position. The plan, really, was to wait until tomorrow s stage to try something if we had the legs. It just so happened that it was so hectic after that first category climb that our group got away. It got a gap and it went pretty perfectly really.
On the climb I was suffering like a pig to be honest. I got over it and my teammate Richard Handley had to wait for me and pace me back on, on the descent. That was sweet. We got the break established and everyone was riding pretty well in it apart from the odd person. It went really well. I dragged my body over the second climb and then rode all the way in to the finish.
With 10km to go Tom (Southam) came up in the car and said you re virtual yellow give it everything. That s what I did. I m pretty chuffed.
I hope (to still lead after stage 7). That would be pretty cool if I was. We ll have to ride our luck a bit. We ve only got three guys left in the race. Two pulled out. We ll see how it goes. We gave it a good shot today. We ll enjoy it.
Alberto Cecchin (Team Nippo De Rosa) | 2nd in stage 6, 13th on GC at 3:34
I will try to keep the blue jersey until the end of the race now. My teammate (Kohei) Uchima lead me out at the intermediate sprint point so I was able to take the 5 points there.
CLASSIFICATION LEADERS AFTER STAGE 6 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): Feng Chun Kai (Champion System Pro Cycling)
Teams General Classification: MTN-Qhubeka
LINK TO STAGE 6 RESULTS AND STAGE 7 START LIST (PDF)
STAGE 6 RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE SIX