Germany's Tino Thömel of RTS-Santic emerged as the surprise winner of the bunch gallop on stage 7 of the 10th Tour of Hainan as he was taking part in a different sprint to the Italian trio of Jakub Mareczko (second), Andrea Palini (third), and Sacha Modolo (fourth).
They were battling on the right side of the road in Dongfang while the 27-year-old from Berlin made his way to the left in a very tight finale that required the help of the photo-finish.
"I didn't know that I had won until the media told me," Thömel commented. "It was very close. I couldn't see where the Italians were. I thought the 250-metre mark was enough for me start sprinting. I went full gas on the left side."
Sacha Modolo retained the lead in the overall ranking but didn't get any time bonus for once. "[Roberto] Ferrari and I got a bit lost and too far behind with 1km to go," the Lampre-Merida rider explained. "It was an interesting sprint. We were six on the same line at the end!"
Mareczko thought he had it for the second day in a row. He started celebrating with his teammates before finding out that he only won the sprint of the Italians. "There was a head wind and I launched too early," he realised. "There's one sprint left [possibly on stage 9] to make it up."
"We all know each other very well," Palini noted. "Sacha was my teammate at Lampre-Merida before and Jakub is from Brescia like me, even though we don't have the same age, we regularly meet up. It's a pity none of us won today."
Ironically, despite teamwork being often praised by sprinters as the key to success, Thömel won even though RTS-Santic were reduced to just two men: himself and Iranian Hossein Alizadeh. "Our other sprinter Boris Shpilevskiy was a little bit sick so he pulled out to recover for the Tour of Taihu Lake," said the German, who already won the conclusive stages at the Tour de Taiwan and the Tour de Korea – beating Australian sensation Caleb Ewan – this year. "Hossein is specifically a climber. He is still in pain since he crashed twice at the beginning of the Tour of Hainan, he kept me out of the wind during the stage but I had to sprint by myself. Tomorrow unfortunately, I won't be a great help for him. I'll be fighting to make the time limit."
Stage 8 is the queen stage to Wuzhishan, where the likes of Andrey Zeits and Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Paco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai), Julien El Farès and Rémy Di Gregorio (Marseille 13-KTM), Matthew Busche (Trek), Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida) and Wang Meiyin (Hengxiang) are expected to fight for GC but most of them have a deficit of 39 seconds to recover from Modolo.
"I'm well," the race leader warned. "Yesterday I tested myself in the first hills and I got confirmation that I can climb. Tomorrow I'll try to hold on. I'll defend myself. The best outcome would be to keep the yellow jersey. There'll be a fierce competition with all the GC riders but I haven't said my last word yet."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Tino Thömel (Ger) RTS-Santic Racing Team||3:46:46|
|2||Jakub Mareczko (Ita) Southeast Pro Cycling|
|3||Andrea Palini (Ita) Skydive Dubai Pro Cycling Team|
|4||Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|5||Benjamin Giraud (Fra) Team Marseille 13 KTM|
|6||Ruslan Tleubayev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|7||Fabio Silvestre (Por) Trek Factory Racing|
|8||Grzegorz Stepniak (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice|
|9||Eduard Michael Grosu (Rom) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|10||Mykhaylo Kononenko (Ukr) Ukraine|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Sacha Modolo (Ita) Lampre-Merida||27:38:45|
|2||Andrea Palini (Ita) Skydive Dubai Pro Cycling Team||0:00:05|
|3||Jakub Mareczko (Ita) Southeast Pro Cycling||0:00:17|
|4||Benjamin Giraud (Fra) Team Marseille 13 KTM||0:00:22|
|5||Vitaliy Buts (Ukr) Ukraine||0:00:27|
|6||Guangtong Ma (Chn) Hengxiang Cycling Team|
|7||Tino Thomel (Ger) RTS-Santic Racing Team||0:00:29|
|8||Stepan Astafyev (Kaz) Vino 4-Ever||0:00:32|
|9||Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida||0:00:33|
|10||Ruslan Tleubayev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|