Michael Cuming today secured the biggest win of his pro cycling career with victory at the 2013 Tour de Korea; demonstrating remarkable resilience after attrition reduced his Rapha Condor JLT team to three at a critical point in the race.
IMAGES: Aaron Lee (Official Tour de Korea race photographer) & Tour de Korea
Prior to the race, Cuming, who placed 40th on GC in last year s Tour de Korea, was not mentioned in the same breath as names like Arredondo, Park, Cheung and van Niekerk; nor was Rapha Condor JLT expected to overcome the might of three UCI ProContinental squads. Once again, cycling reminds us to expect the unexpected.
It was a tough day for me. It was probably one of the most stressful two hours of my life. said a relieved Cuming after finally securing the Yellow Jersey for good. Winning the Tour de Korea is the high point of my career. It s the biggest achievement I ve had so far in my life with cycling.
Cuming praised the efforts of Richard Handley, the race winner s sole remaining team mate by the eighth and final stage. Richard did another fantastic job. He counts for at least three people I reckon. I was lucky I had him there. I love this team. I don t think we could have ever imagined getting something like this.
Though missing out on the individual classification podium, South Africa s MTN-Qhubeka squad deposited three of its riders Dennis van Niekerk, Louis Meintjes and Kristian Sbaragli in 6th, 9th and 10th, respectively in the top 10 overall, whilst taking home KRW35,920,000 (USD31,850) of the total KRW200m prize money on offer.
Seo (KSP) came painfully close to a win in a narrowly-thwarted solo effort on Stage 2. Riding in the team of the race organiser brings a certain weight of expectation and the Best Korean Rider in the race was motivated to deliver a result on the final stage.
On a small hill there were six riders in the front, recalled the beaming Korean. The peloton could not catch the breakaway. I was thinking, I have to go there . Nishitani (Aisan Racing Team) came with me and then together we caught the breakaway group. In the last 200m I stayed third or fourth, then got into my sprinting position. After a week of failed attempts: I knew: finally. I used all of my power and then sprinted. I looked back; nobody. Then, hands up!
Choe Hyeong Min (Geumsan Insam Cello) secured the climber s jersey on the day s only climb. The anticipated battle with Champion System Pro Cycling Team s Feng Chun Kai never eventuated on Bisol-gogae. The 23-year-old was third in the race for the polka dots in 2012 and claimed his best-ever result by four points over the Taiwanese rider.
HOW THE STAGE UNFOLDED
After a week of racing it was the competitors themselves who bore responsibility for a start-list just 81 names deep a near 40% reduction from the pre-race start list of 133 riders. They had made Tour de Korea a furious race and only the Aisan Racing Team could boast of a complete roster at the start of the final stage; and, indeed, the finish. The most notable DNF among five from Stage 7 was Elliot Porter (RCJ) who went into the red on the first KOM and never recovered. Along with Bradley Potgieter (MTN) he had ridden across the line after the autobus and was eliminated. Race leader Cuming now had only Richard Handley upon which he could rely.
Another warm day kept the riders in hiding until the last possible moment in Hongcheon. When the four jerseys were called to the line for the standard photo opportunity it was Cheung King Lok (HKG) who looked most comfortable. Cuming, in yellow for a second day, was visibly apprehensive. Looking over the sky blue shoulder of Italian Alberto Cecchin (PPO), Kristian Sbaragli (MTN) wore a skinsuit; MTN-Qhubeka were counting on a mass finish to elevate #21 into first position in the sprint classification.
A short climb then a rapid descent opened the neutral zone and KSPO used the downward momentum to attack from the flag fall. The peloton was moving too quickly to oblige any frivolities in the opening stanza. Cuming, Cheung King Lok (HKG), Choe (GIC) and Cecchin were all in attendance at the front of the race. The four leaders ensured nothing would stick ahead of the KOM.
From there, the real action started. On the moderate lower slopes, two riders jumped. Cuming and Cheung closed it down but the former had edged close to over-extending. The two lead climbers in the race were expected to scrap for the last points of their competition but with 800m to the summit it was Team Nippo De Rosa s Juli n Arredondo who went first. Only Taiji Nishitani (AIS) was able to accelerate at the requisite rate and the pair gained 25m on the peloton. When the Japanese rider faltered, Artur Fedosseyev (KAZ) took his place on Arredondo s wheel.
The MTN-Qhubeka double-act of Dennis van Niekerk and Louis Meintjes was familiar to the race by now and the pair helped to orchestrate a response from the bunch along with the polka dot jersey Choe, white jersey Cheung, his shadow in the form of Cuming, Masakazu Ito (AIS) and the dropped Nishitani. The Kazakh rider followed Arredondo to the top. Choe lead the chase group over, taking two points for third place and confirming his ownership of the final climber s jersey. He sat up immediately. In the final 100m of the climb, the yellow jersey blew.
On the 10km descent the first six riders over the third category climb worked together to produce a 20 second advantage on the yellow jersey group. The sprint point at 31.6km was motivation enough for more teams to chip into the chase and the intervening contours favoured the peloton. With 2km to the sprint point, the catch was made. Cuming resumed his position on Cheung s back wheel. The Hong Kong China Team rider beat the pure sprinters to the five point prize but it was the three second time bonus he craved.
I saw him do it, recounted the Rapha Condor JLT leader of Cheung s intermediate sprint. I was on his wheel when he kicked. He was pretty fast you know. He can sprint as well as climb; it s pretty impressive. Then I thought, if it comes down to a bunch sprint, and he wins the sprint and gets the bonus seconds there, he deserves the win .
In the kilometres of open road that followed, the eighth decisive breakaway of the Tour de Korea emerged. Two of yesterday s stars, Meintjes (MTN) and Eric Sheppard (TSI), were in the move with Kazuhiro Mori (AIS), Shinichi Fukushima (PPO) and Sun Jae Jang (RTS). Kwok Ho Ting (HKG) stood in for Cheung, who was still recovering from his sprint. Nishitani and Seo (KSP) saw the dangerous potential of the six riders ahead and, after a difficult chase, latched on.
Their advantage fluctuated from 45 seconds to one minute before Christina Watches Onfone decided Nishitani s threat to Constantino Zaballa s third place could no longer be ignored. Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies pitched in with their minds on a third stage for Eric Young and a second place in the sprint classification.
Despite an organised chase the leaders were able to extend the lead to 1:30 with 19km to go; however, a right-angle turn and some broken roads interrupted their rhythm. MTN-Qhubeka added their firepower to the chase and by the 15km board the gap had halved. The peloton caught sight of its prey on the outskirts of Seoul and seethed towards the breakaway. Cuming, metres from the best result of his career, was just trying to keep up.
Cheung realised the pace was too high for a solo victory and a shot at the yellow jersey. The peloton miscalculated by five riders, though the bunch would all be given the same time. Seo sprinted around Kwok (HKG) and Sheppard (TSI) to salvage a stage win for the race that his team sponsor owns and operates. Fukushima and Meintjes also survived, whilst Young lead the bunch to the line in Hanam.
Michael Cuming (Rapha Condor JLT) | 39th in stage 8, Overall Race Winner
It was just the two of us (today). Rich (Handley) did another fantastic job. He counts for at least three I reckon, three people. I was lucky I had him there today to keep me out of the shit. (At the start of the race) we were going to be riding for Rich who had been in really good shape. On the first day I had a bit of luck and got in the move. It worked out. I knew I could get a decent result but I never imagined I d be able to win.
(Cheung) really pushed me to my limits today. Over that first climb I was right on the edge and completely blew 100m from the top. It was really, really scary, we had a bit of a chase on. Then he was constantly attacking us from there on. He put up a really good fight.
I was on his wheel when he kicked (for the intermediate sprint, which Cheung won). He was pretty fast you know. He can sprint as well as climb, it s pretty impressive. Then I thought, if it comes down to a bunch sprint, and he wins the sprint and gets the bonus seconds there, he deserves the win. You know what I mean? Fair enough.
We were lucky we had Christina Watches-Onfone working, we had the Optum guys working and then towards the end we had MTN-Qhubeka working for a bunch kick so it was the combination that got meant the other teams were riding for a bunch kick. I was just hanging on (in the final 5km s). I hate to say it but I was just hanging on for grim death. It was a tough day for me. It was probably one of the most stressful two hours of my life. But we got through it alright. In the end I had plenty of time. I could have sat up for the finishing straight and cruised in.
Winning the Tour de Korea is the high point of my career. It s pretty cool. It s the biggest achievement I ve had so far in my life with cycling.
I love this team. It s a great bunch of guys. Tom (Southam) is a great guy. John Herety, the manager, is really supportive of us all. It is a development team really so it s been a really good result for us here. I don t think we could have ever imagined getting something like this. All the lads are really happy for me. At the moment I just want to get through the rest of the season. We ve got the nationals next week then lots of races in England with the National Series races. Then we build up towards the Tour of Britain. Hopefully I ll get a ride in that. We ll have to wait and see.
Cheung King Lok (Hong Kong China Team) | 44th in stage 8, 2nd on GC at 0:09
I planned to break away on the first mountain. If failed there, back to the peloton to rest for the intermediate sprint. If I won the sprint I would have three seconds. I wanted to win the stage and have ten seconds; because the peloton s speed is very fast I can t break away with just one guy. If I sprinted there would have been more chance from the breakaway. It s not very perfect today. It s still good to keep the white jersey and first runner-up in the general classification.
Now is a good moment but not the top moment of my career. I will improve more and more in the future. I will try my best next year and take the general classification or a stage. I will try my best in cycling.
My team feels very relaxed after the Tour of Korea. They did two tours before, Tour of Iran and Tour of Kumano, and still in the Tour of Korea they had to try to keep my yellow jersey and work very hard. I will stay on this team and go for another Tour de Korea. Maybe the Tour de France is in my future. This year I am still able to go to Italy (U23 World Championships).
Joonyong Seo (Seoul Cycling Team) | 1st in stage 8, 8th on GC at 2:43
The sixth and seventh stage was very tough. The first stage also. Everybody had power and many attacks tried to make a group. It was so hard. Yesterday at dinner we were eating with KSPO company people. They say, oh no, no pressure, but there was some on Park (Sung Baek) and me.
On a small hill (today) there were six riders in the front. The peloton could not catch the breakaway. I was thinking, I have to go there. Nishitani (Aisan Racing Team) came with me and then together we caught the breakaway group. In the last 200m I stayed third or fourth, then got into my sprinting position. I knew: finally. I used all of my power and then sprinted. I looked back; nobody. Then, hands up!
This Tour de Korea I tried for a stage win. On Stage 6 and 7 I was 3rd on general classification. On the second stage I also tried to break away solo. I tried a solo win but everybody catch me. Finally I tried to get a stage win. The KSPO chairman (Chung Jung Taek) today was happy.
Last year I was looking for another UCI team but couldn t contact. This year I got information from ORICA-GreenEDGE as a test rider in July or October. Maybe the Korean Cycling Federation will send one or two riders in the ORICA-GreenEDGE team. I will try over there.
FINAL CLASSIFICATION WINNERS 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): Hyeongmin Choe (Geumsan Insam Cello)
Teams General Classification: MTN-Qhubeka
LINK TO STAGE 8 AND OVERALL RESULTS (PDF, 266Kb)
The team responsible for the official 2013 Tour de Korea images (left to right): Aaron Lee, Mokhriz (Mike) Aziz; Dae Bong Kim. Thank you, gentlemen, see you next year!!
STAGE 8 RESULTS
FINAL GENERAL CLASSIFICATION