The remaining 120 riders on the start of Stage 5 still have no solutions in keeping Italian sprinter Jakub Mareczko off the top step of the podium at Tour of Hainan. Other than a small blip in the opener where he finished second to Spaniard Jon Aberasturi (Team UKYO), the 23-year-old Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia rider has gone four-for-four in as many days.
On Wednesday, Mareczko once again bested the field. This time the finish of the 167.5-kilometre tipping point of the nine-stage road race from Danzhou to Changjiang, included Estonian Martin Laas (Delko-Marseille Provence KTM) and Ukrainian Andriy Kulyk (Kolss), who rounded out the podium.
Mareczko wins again with another superb sprint, approaches Kittel record
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The race was animated from the start with 40 riders launching an immediate attack. Soon seven others joined to make a 47-man break with a gap of more than a minute. However, with the peloton averaging more than 50 km/h, the field soon rejoined only to see multiple breaks form and falter throughout the stage until the final attack of three were caught with less than 600 metres to go.
“I am so tired today,” Mareczko told Eurosport after winning the stage in a time of 3 hours 35 minutes 7 seconds — nearly 20 minutes ahead of the fastest predicted time. “It was crazy all day, and hot, too. From the start all the riders wanted to go in the break.
“I stayed back with two riders on my team, while my [lead-out Eugert Zhupa] and another was in front the group and I think won the first sprint.”
According to Wilier team management, it took Zhupa speeds of 80 km/h to lead Mareczko across a 20-second gap to the breakaway inside the final 2km on the descent into the bunch kick finish.
For Martin Laas, the day’s result marks a missed chance to overtake his rival after his Delko team were outnumbered by Wilier in the closing 1,000 metres.
“We missed an opportunity today, and lost some guys leading into the final kilometre,” he explained.
We have to be perfect to beat Mareczko and today was again not that day.
Canadian UCI-registered Continental team H&R Block Pro Cycling played a visible role on the day. Not only was Alexis Cartier (CAN) in all three main breaks on the day, including the final before dropping off inside the last 2km, but two of his four teammates cracked the top 10.
Fellow Canadian Marc-antoine Nadon (H&R Block Pro Cycling) and Slovenian Jure Rupnik crossed the line in fourth and ninth respectively. For the 23-year-old Nadon, it was his third fourth-place finish of the race.
“From the start, Alexis went straight off the gun,” explained the former mountain biker and recent GP Saguenay runner-up. “A split happened and luckily I made that first split, so I got to sit in for the first hour essentially. But all day the tailwinds were relentless. There was nothing left in the tank at the end, and I told Jure we were sprinting for him today because I didn’t think I was going to make it.
“Leading it out we were behind Delko with 2k to go, and we basically made that last corner possibly fifth wheel and Mareczko came around and went, then Delko went and I just jumped on the wheel for Jure and the sprint started from 400m to go.
I went as hard as I could hoping Jure could get around, but the speeds today were just unbelievably fast.
Prior to the finish, a crash inside the final 25km sent a handful of riders to the pavement, including a pair of Australian IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness riders — Michael Freiberg and Anthony Giacoppo. While the former track world champion was able to remount and coast in to the finish, Giacoppo was disqualified from the race after a Commissaire ruled he had illegally used the cars to make his way back to the bunch. Giacoppo had recorded back-to-back third place finishes and fourth overall.
A bloodied Freiberg flashed the ‘OK’ sign to Eurosport following the stage, but Chinese rider Chien Chou Chen (Attaque Team Gusto) was taken off the course by an ambulance. No word as of yet on his condition.
For Mareczko, who also holds the points jersey, he now enjoys a 24-second lead on general classification over Laas and 31 seconds over Aberasturi. Current KOM leader Vitaliy Buts (Kolss) is fourth on GC, 40 seconds adrift, followed by the majority of the field at less than 1 minute behind with still one more sprint stage before the potentially race-deciding seventh stage on Friday.
With four-straight celebrations, along with four more stage wins and an overall title earlier this month at the Tour of Taihu Lake (2.1), one would think Mareczko has adopted a new technique in popping corks on bottles of Champagne. But no so, he says.
“No, I don’t do anything special,” claims Mareczko. “I just twist it off and spray the crowd. It’s easy really, but a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll try something new if I get another opportunity this week.”
He could even get another chance to burst the bubbly on Thursday. The sixth stage is almost certain to once again come down to a sprint.
For full stage and race results click here.
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