Day 2 of the 14th Tour of Japan
By Paul Rowlands for Rapha Condor Sharp
On day 2, Rapha Condor Sharp consolidated its position in the race with a solid team display in support of yesterdays top team finisher Darren Lapthorne. Every member of the team displayed total commitment to the collective effort today, enabling team leader Darren Lapthorne to finish in the top ten on the day, surrounded by the riders he will have to do battle with over the coming days if he is to challenge for overall honours here.
As had been expected given the style of racing here in Japan, the attacking began almost as soon as the flag dropped and it wasn’t long until eight riders, including Rapha Condor Sharp rider Zak Dempster, slipped away and gained a lead of 10 seconds.
That move was neutralised as quickly as it had started however and as the race approached the 1km climb that would bring the bunch to the end of the first lap, a group of three riders escaped including Cristiano Salerno of De Rosa, Nick Aitken of Jayco Skins, Alexandr Shushemoin of Kazakhstan and Takashi Miyazawa of Team Nippo who jumped across to the move just after the top of the climb.
That group quickly established itself and whilst the lead rarely tipped over the minute mark, the inability of any riders to bridge the gap illustrated just how hot the pace was. This situation persisted until the end of the 5th lap where the gap to the leaders dropped significantly and it appeared momentarily that they might be about to crack. However it was the bunch itself that split with eleven riders including Kristian House and Darren Lapthorne making the front group.
For the next two laps the race existed in three groups as each pursued the next around the 10km circuit around Nunome Dam with the chasers gradually eroding the lead of the breakaway as they in turn were reeled in by the bunch, predominantly driven by Shimano.
This relentless pressure was bound to take it’s toll eventually and whilst the bunch eventually caught the group of eleven, a number of riders were tailed off from the main bunch, amongst them Rapha Condor Sharp riders Dean Downing and Graham Briggs, each paying for their earlier efforts in helping Darren Lapthorne to maintain position in the bunch.
Meanwhile, back at the front, the race was entering its final and most crucial phase and as the race entered its tenth lap, the lead of the break finally began, albeit slowly, to crumble. As the break tried to respond to the increase in pace, their first casualty was Nick Aitken who cracked after 90km, coming back to (and through) the main bunch as his day ground to a halt.
The pressure at the front of the race was in no small part due to the work put in by Rapha Condor Sharp riders Zak Dempster and Kristian house. Each played their part in reducing the lead of the break and as the race approached the finishing climb on the last of its eleven laps the leading trio had a lead of just 30 seconds.
Salerno of De Rosa had enough left in his legs to launch a decisive move at the foot of the climb and never looked like being caught before the line while back in the bunch, Darren Lapthorne could be seen at the front as the bunch hit the bottom of the climb, marking his closest rivals all the way to the top to finish in the top ten on the day and maintain a high overall position.
Speaking after the finish, Darren described how the race had unfolded: “I thought when I was in the break of eleven with Kristian that it was the big move of the day and I was really surprised that we got brought back and then the bunch came to a standstill and that let the four guys off the front. By the time the teams got together to chase, it was almost getting too late. Kristian and Zak did a lot of work for me and the other boys really looked after me. In the end it was a little bit too late but I’m not too worried, I didn’t lose too much time and that’s the main thing”.
Tomorrow sees the riders take on the 160km Mino stage, a little longer than today but no less relentless in its severity. Hopefully we’ll have twitter back up and running in time for that. Follow us at @raphacondor.