Team Sky's Chris Sutton won the Japan Cup Criterium on Saturday as riders warmed-up for Sunday's headline 151km race on the hiller Utsonomiya circuit.
The Australian sprinter got an excellent leadout from his teammates and had the speed to edge out 2013 winner Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp). Sutton was given the victory after race officials carefully studied the photo-finish. Teammate Ben Swift was third, with Gregor Bole (Vini Fantini-Nippo) fourth and Wesley Sulzberger (Drapac) fifth.
A break of four riders animated much of the 20-lap race in downtown Utsonomiya before the sprinters' teams and especially Team Sky, took charge. Ian Boswell and Bernhard Eisel did much of the chasing before Edvald Boasson Hagen and Swift lead out Sutton. Boasson Hagen held on to take tenth in the sprint to give Team Sky three riders in the top ten.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Sutton said according to the Team Sky website.
“The boys were incredible. Boswell came and started riding on the front straight away. In the closing laps Bernie was just drilling it on the front and got quicker and quicker. I was really well protected by Eddie and Swifty. It was the best lead-out I’ve ever had.”
“Eddie went first and then Swifty stepped off him. I just finished it off and it was really nice to get a win. You know it’s a good lead-out when your lead-out man can still finish on the podium.”
Team Sky is one of the seven WorldTour teams on the 79-rider start for Sunday's Japan Cup race.
Also bringing down the curtain on their season in Japan are Dan Martin and his Garmin-Sharp teammates Nathan Haas, Phil Gaimon and Steele Van Hoff. Damuano Cunego ends his decade in Lampre colours, while Davide Formolo and Moreno Moser will race in Cannondale's green colours for the last time following the take over of the team. Japanese riders Yukiya Arashiro and Fumiyuki Beppu lead Europcar and Trek Factory Racing. Karsten Kroon (Tinkoff-Saxo) has confirmed that the Japan Cup will be his last race before retirement.
The 151km Japan Cup covers ten laps of a 10.3km circuit before a final finishing circuit of 14.1km. Many of the roads are the same used for the 1990 road world championship won by the late Rudy Dhaenens of Belgium.
Last year Michael Rogers won the Japan Cup before it was announced he had tested positive for Clenbuterol. He was cleared of doping but was disqualified from the result, with victory awarded to Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp).