Tunisian champion Rafaâ Chtioui (Skydive Dubai) was declared the winner of stage 4 of the 2015 Tour of Taihu Lake. It was 2014 Chinese national champion Zhao Jingbiao from Hengxiang that crossed the line first but only after he benefited from a flying relay by his team-mate Wang Meiyin. The commissaires panel opted for a soft sanction of 30 seconds penalty to each of the offenders. Jakub Mareczko (Southeast) retained the overall lead ahead of the queen stage over Maoshan Mountain.
"This is a beautiful victory," Chtioui said after receiving news of the decision. "I was surprised by how fast the Chinese came across to me but now I know how he did it. Initially, we were going to ride for a bunch sprint for Andrea Palini but, at half way, the race turned out to be very different today with crosswinds. So I decided to race aggressively at the front when I saw the other teams were a bit disorganised.”
Despite having their team-mate Peter Schulting as the last breakaway rider battling alone at the front, the Parkhotel Valkenburg team put the hammer down with 35km to go and created echelons on the shore of the Xitaihu (West Taihu) lake. The other Dutchmen from the Rabobank development team also showed up at the head of the split peloton. Race leader Mareczko was never in trouble but it drastically changed the way of racing. Chtioui rode away solo on the final lap with 16km to go. Three Hengxiang riders chased him down and bridged the gap: Zhao, Wang and Ma Guangtong.
“Echelons and crashes have made the race more competitive today," Mareczko realised. "We rode behind those four riders who went away, but we didn't manage to bring them back. The Chinese riders have done very well keeping the advantage they got.
"I honestly rode with the Chinese until five-km to go," Chtioui explained. "I told them I'd go for the stage win because I've lost some time on GC on day by one taking the derivation. With three-km to go I realized they were a bit cooked. I had to attack and take some risks to win."
In the last kilometer, as Zhao and Wang struggled to come across to Chtioui while Ma couldn't hold the pace, Wang gave a flying relay. The action was caught live on TV as the Tour of Taihu Lake is broadcasted worldwide for the first time so Zhao couldn't be awarded the top prize despite beating Chtioui on the line.
"I know the sanction could have been worse," said Hengxiang team manager Li Fuyu, "but we're still happy with two riders on the podium. They forgot the rules but their ride was fantastic.
"It wasn't planned but we felt the peloton was going to split," Zhao commented. "We pushed till the end. The rules are the rules but I won't blame Meiyin because he played a big part in what we achieved today. We're happy."
As Zhao and Wang were given the green light by the judges to remain in the race, more might be seen more from them in stage 5. The Tour of Taihu Lake was known for being dead flat all the way but it's not the case this year. The riders will tackle Maoshan mountain for the first time ever. It's the extraordinary site of a Taoist temple with a huge statue of Laozi. It was also a battle field for the sino-Japanese war in the late 1930s. The race will pass nearby the memorial.
Chtioui played down his chances to ride for GC although he's very strong at the moment but Mareczko confirmed he's not afraid the gradients. "It's going to be a harder stage from what I hear but I hope to make the front group," the Italian said. "It seems to be a false flat of four or five kilometres at 2 or 3% and a harder finale to be done twice. Sacha Modolo has given me an example to follow at the Tour of Hainan by compiling time bonus in the early stages and then maintaining a small gap between him and the attackers on the climb to keep the leader's jersey."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Rafaa Chtioui (Tun) Skydive Dubai||2:22:27|
|2||Ma Guangtong (Chn) Hengxiang Cycling Team||0:00:14|
|3||Jingbiao Zhao (Chn) Hengxiang Cycling Team||0:00:30|
|4||Scott Sunderland (Aus) Team Budget Forklifts||0:00:33|
|5||Jakub Mareczko (Ita) Southeast|
|6||Andrea Palini (Ita) Skydive Dubai|
|7||Marco Zanotti (Ita) Parkhotel Valkenburg CT|
|8||Ahmet Orken (Tur) Torku Sekerspor|
|9||Patrick Clausen (Den) Team Trefor-Blue Water|
|10||Andriy Kulyk (Ukr) Kolss BDC Team|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Jakub Mareczko (Ita) Southeast||11:07:53|
|2||Ma Guangtong (Chn) Hengxiang Cycling Team||0:00:06|
|3||Jingbiao Zhao (Chn) Hengxiang Cycling Team||0:00:18|
|4||Scott Sunderland (Aus) Team Budget Forklifts||0:00:20|
|5||Ahmet Orken (Tur) Torku Sekerspor||0:00:22|
|6||Andrea Palini (Ita) Skydive Dubai||0:00:24|
|7||Andriy Kulyk (Ukr) Kolss BDC Team|
|8||Andris Vosekalns (Lat) Rietumu-Delfin||0:00:26|
|9||Freantisek Sisr (Cze) Team Dukla Praha|
|10||Sam Witmitz (Aus) Team Budget Forklifts||0:00:27|