Legazpi City — Australian rider Wesley Sulzberger of Japan-based Kinan Cycling Team ruled a demanding Stage 3 challenge behind a sustained attack on Saturday afternoon but his efforts hardly rocked the pacesetters in the 2016 Le Tour de Filipinas.
Disappointed with his performance in Stage 2 last Friday when he finished 25th overall with the main bunch, Sulzberger, 29, immediately broke away eight kilometers into the stage at the Bicol National Park, kept control of the lead pack and blew past Attaque Team Gusto’s Guy Kalma in the final 300 meters to secure his breakthrough lap victory in the annual race presented by Air21.
“Today was a very, very long breakaway. My legs were good from the start for me to go straightaway and it was easy for me,” said Sulzberger, who negotiated the arduous 185.79-km journey from Daet, Camarines Norte in four hours, 27 minutes and 55 seconds, two ticks ahead of Kalma.
7-Eleven/Sava RBP’s Baler Ravina, the 2012 Le Tour champion, came in at third, 20 seconds off the pace, in the company of Terengganu’s British rider Daniel Whitehouse while Christopher Williams of Novo Nordisk finished fifth overall with a stage clocking of 4:28:20.
Their efforts, however, failed to create any major impact on the top individual standings as yellow jersey holder Oleg Zemlyakov, the Lucena-Daet stage winner, and Vino 4ever Sko teammate Yevgeniy Gidich stuck with the peloton majority of the way and checked in three minutes and 10 seconds behind Sulzberger.
Vino 4ever Sko team manager Sergey Danniker later admitted Zemlyakov, 22, and his fellow Kazakh youngsters didn’t even try to make any attacks, apparently preserving their energy for the final push on Sunday, an out-and-back 160.20km challenge circling around the majestic Mayon Volcano here.
“Control the race and control the time,” was how Danniker summed up the game plan of the Kazakhstan-based squad, which is being supported by 2012 London Olympics road race gold medalist Alexander Vinokourov.
“Tomorrow (Sunday) we will protect the yellow jersey.”
Zemlyakov, who will join Vinokourov’s Astana Pro Team next year, has accumulated a total clocking of 13 hours, 43 minutes and 22 seconds, still keeping a 19-second gap on Gidich in the individual general classification.
7-Eleven’s Australian rider Jesse James Ewart remained at third, 22 seconds behind Zemlyakov, while Terengganu’s Mongolian bet Batmunkh Maral-Erdene stayed at fourth (13:43:45) and Bridgestone Anchor’s Japanese rider Ryu Suzuki at fifth (13:44:47).
A pair of homegrown riders remains in contention for the coveted yellow jersey, with 7-Eleven’s Marcelo Felipe at seventh spot, one minute and 25 seconds behind Zemlyakov, and Philippine national team’s Rustom Lim moving up one spot to ninth, two minutes and four ticks adrift.
Vino 4ever Sko also remained in control of the team general classifications with a clocking of 41:13:59, at least five minutes and 16 seconds ahead of 7-Eleven/Sava RBP and Malayasia’s Terengganu Cycling Team.
Reigning individual champion Thomas Lebas continued to struggle as the Frenchman finished three minutes and 20 seconds off the pace, virtually putting him out of contention while assuring a new champion in the only International Cycling Union race in the country organized by Ube Media Inc. headed by President Donna Lina.
While the leaders opted to stay in cruise control, Sulzberger took advantage and ignited an early breakaway, allowing him to jump from 25th overall to 13th while cutting an over 10-minute deficit to just 6:45 ahead of the final stage, highlighted by four King of the Mountain battles and as many sprint challenges.
“Today, I just tried and went for the stage victory to recover from some of my disappointments yesterday,” said Sulzberger, who has already earned 13 UCI points in the race which has Petron, MVP Sports Foundation and Smart as principal sponsors. “This is my first time here in the Philippines and my first win for 2016 so I am very happy.”
Although he has less than 24 hours left to recover, Sulzberger feels good about his chances in the final stage of the event also supported by Cargohaus, NMM, UFL, Philippine Airlines, Collab Printing Solutions, Autonation, Orangefix and Phenom as major sponsors.
“I prefer tomorrow’s stage. I like circuits with climbs. I just hope I’m not too tired (after winning Stage 3,” said the Launceston, Tasmania Australia native. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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