The queen stage of the Tour of Hainan turned out to be a battle between Fausto and Gino as duellists Fausto Masnada and Gino Mäder carry the same first names as cycling greats Coppi and Bartali. Masnada, from Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec, is on the verge of winning the overall race in Danzhou as he now holds a two-second lead over the young prodigy of the Swiss national team.
“I knew I was going well but I didn’t know the climb or my rivals,” said Masnada about the first-ever uphill finish at the Tour of Hainan. “It was a demanding race all the way because of the wind. I gave everything and I managed to make it. I climbed at my rhythm. Gino’s interest was to stay on my wheel because he was the virtual leader. I sped up to make a difference. At 600 meters to go, I looked behind and I realized I was alone and I went flat-out until the finish. It’s even better to get the yellow jersey.”
The early break featured Israeli champion Roy Goldstein (Israel Cycling Academy), Joey van Rhee and Peter Schulting (Monkey Town), Ukrainian national champion Oleksandr Polivoda (Ningxia-Livall) and Kohei Uchima (Nippo-Vini Fantini). This group built up a maximum advantage of 10:15, which made the race hard for everyone as the protagonists of the overall classification had to chase seriously to reduce the gap to Schulting, who was the highest ranked escapee with a deficit of two minutes.
Uchima was dropped with 50km to go, when the gap was still over five minutes. Van Rhee was the second rider to surrender with 12km to go and Polivoda the third one at the bottom of the 7km-long concluding climb.
Schulting was alone in the lead 6km before the end, when defending champion Jacopo Mosca of Wilier Triestina attacked from the peloton. As soon as he was reeled in, Simon Pellaud upped the tempo for the Swiss national team. With 4.5km to go, Schulting was passed by a group of five riders including Masnada, Mäder and Chinese mountain biking sensation Lyu Xianjing (Hengxiang), who impressed once again.
Matteo Badilatti (Israel Cycling Academy) and Julien El Farès (Delko Marseille-Provence KTM) made it across with 3km to go but couldn’t follow an acceleration by Mäder.
It came down to a duel between Masnada and Mäder in the last kilometre. Masnada rode away 600 metres before the line and claimed a well-deserved victory. “He was too strong for me and he deserves his victory,” Mäder acknowledged. “He attacked me from far out. I tried to follow him. I yelled at him ok you can go and win the stage but let me follow, however, I couldn’t speak anymore, I yelled, I yelled, but he kept accelerating. Eventually, I lost two seconds too much on him but I have no regrets because he was really stronger than me. It’s only my second time riding for GC [third at the Tour de l’Avenir].”
For Masnada, the triumph was a significant one. “It was worth waiting till the end of the season to get my first pro victory,” said the Italian. “I’ve been chasing it since the beginning of the year and I’ve been close on a few occasions, even at the Giro d’Italia. There’s one stage remaining. It’ll be another long one with 182km. We have sprinters who can target one more stage victory even though the overall classification will be our priority now. We’ll do our best to conclude this wonderful race in style.”
Unlike the two rookies called Fausto and Gino, Julien El Farès (Delko Marseille-Provence KTM) – who is set to finish third overall like in 2015 – was familiar with the event on China’s tropical island. “According to the road book this climb was very hard, but I can confirm it’s a gruelling climb,” the Frenchman said. “I suffered a lot, but I tried to do my best up the hill. My team did a very good job. Third is probably the best result I could get up there.”