Tour de Korea’s longest stage, from Buyeo to Gwangju, may have started under smoke-grey skies, but it ended with two shades of yellow when Alexander Candelario (Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies) wrestled the leader’s jersey from Mauro Richeze (Team Nippo) in a bunch sprint, moments before the day’s first bright sunshine appeared. Adding insult to Richeze’s injury, the stage’s second- and third-placed riders, David McCann (RTS Racing) and Chanjae Jang (Terengganu Cycling Team), wiped the Argentinean clean from the overall podium.
Mini-skirt wearing dancing girls certainly had the 121 riders in good spirits prior to the rolling 197.7km stage, but the party really got underway at 10:05 local time, when the race left the neutral zone. In a carbon copy of yesterday’s stage, Seoul Cycling Team was again first to send a rider up the road. The peloton immediately picked up the pace, demonstrating that even small attacks would be taken seriously.
Blue jersey wearer Sunjae Jang (Korea National Team) also remained vigilant, given his rival Kiju Lee (KSPO) was only two points adrift in the points classification and the day’s only intermediate sprint came quickly, a mere 56 kilometers into the stage. As it happened, Jang showed great form in besting Cheun Gyo Jeong (Geumsan Ginseng Cello) and Chanjae Jang, while Lee was not in the mix at all.
Shortly after the sprint, the first day’s crash occurred; momentarily taking Ben Dyball (Genesys Wealth Advisers) and Young Lee Ng (Azad University Cross Team) out of the peloton. The two men were able to remount without serious damage and fought their way back into the bunch. 25 kilometers later, a twelve-man breakaway caused further anxiety within the main group, resulting in five different riders - the majority of them local – taking minor spills.
Three hours into the stage, and with 125 kilometers covered, more significant gaps started to appear, with one larger group taking over a minute out of the peloton before being pulled back five kilometres shy of the category four KOM summit. An immediate counter-attack by King Lok Cheung (Hong Kong National team), Farshad Salehian (Azad University Cross Team) and Kyunggu Jang (Arbö Gebrüder Weiss-Oberndorfer) provided the impetus Jang needed to power over the 250 meter summit, securing the race’s first polka dot jersey.
With many riders still making their way over the summit, a short and twisty descent further fractured the descending group, eventually culminating in a strong twenty-man break building a 1:25 lead only 30 kilometers from the finish. Amazingly, well-known sprinters Chanjae Jang, Candelario, McCann and Muradjan Halmuratov (Uzbekistan Suren Team) were able to extricate themselves from the break, generating a lead of 40 seconds by the time they reached five kilometers to go.
Having dispatched Halmuratov with their pace, the final trio was still 30 seconds clear of the peloton as they negotiated a sharp right hand turn 500 meters from the finish line. Though McCann made a strong first move, neither he nor Jang were able to resist the Optum rider’s superior form on this day.
“McCann was really strong inside the final kilometer,” explained Candelario (above), immediately after the stage. ”He hit out, got a small gap and was doing his best to ditch me, because I’m more of a sprinter. He made it pretty hard to get back onto his wheel, but I came around him with 200 meters to go.”
The keen surfer, who was “checking out the coastline before the race” is using Tour de Korea as preparation for the Tour of California next month. “We see a great honor in coming here to race, so we’re taking this event seriously,” Candelario enthused. “We really like the Asian races, because they’re aggressive and all day long there’s attacks and moves going; it’s really hard. The Koreans, especially, treat us well with good accommodation and food.
Asked whether his team would defend the yellow jersey, Candelario pointed to the constraints of a UCI 2.2 race, saying “it’s a long race to ride on the front with only six guys, so I think we’ll look to play a few different cards. I can’t cover every move that goes, so we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Photos: Tour de Korea/Aaron Lee