Japan Cup criterium: Canola wins, Contador stars, Porte returns - Gallery

Nippo-Vini Fantini's Marco Canola took the victory in the criterium at the Japan Cup, the precursor to the main road race event on Sunday. 

The Italian, riding for the Italian Pro Continental team that has Japanese backing, triumphed in the expected sprint after a messy final kilometre. LottoNL-Jumbo's Juan Jose Lobato finished second, while BMC stagiaire Bram Welten took third place. 

The 38.25km course was based on laps of a 2.25km circuit in Utsunomiya and Canola had to overcome a late mechanical to get back into contention, before catching his opponents off guard with a long-range sprint. 

"I had a mechanical problem and, given the short length of the race, I changed bikes quickly and I was able, fortunately, to get back into the peloton and in the wheels until the final lap," said Canola. "Covering the circuit multiple times, we were able to study it, and I took the last bend in fourth place and I launched my sprint early. Holding it to the line with hard but fortunately I had enough in the legs to finish it off."

The event was marked by appearances from Richie Porte and the recently-retired Alberto Contador. Porte was making his first racing appearance since dramatically crashing out of the Tour de France on stage 9 in July.

The Australian had suffered a broken collarbone and pelvis and is in Japan to lay the foundations ahead of the off-season and the 2018 season. 

"It was a fast criterium, and the weather wasn't the best, but it was nice to get back on the bike and ride with the guys," said Porte. "It is a fun race here, and it is good to come back with no pressure.

"For me, it was also nice to be part of Alberto Contador's last race. We were teammates for one year, and it was kind of cool to be part of that. For us as a team, Bram Welten was good and finished third, and Danilo Wyss looked strong when he attacked. It was a nice way to start our time in Japan, and it was a bit of an opener for tomorrow. I have to be realistic about tomorrow. It is a hard race, and my main goal will be to cross the finish line."

Contador was one of the star attractions, and took to Instagram to post a video of all the presents he'd received from fans upon arrival in Japan. 


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