Peter Sagan emerged as the winner of the fourth edition of the Saitama Criterium, outsprinting Japanese champion Sho Hatsuyama at the end of a fast race.
With the event run by Tour de France organisers ASO, Sagan was wearing the green jersey he won in July - rather than the world champion's rainbow jersey he retained a fortnight ago. Tour de France champion Chris Froome, wearing his yellow jersey, took third place after being part of the late four-man break, along with white jersey Adam Yates.
"It was a very fast start," said Sagan. "A breakaway got caught, another one started. Eventually the race became a bit more quiet so I waited for three or four laps to go to make my move because I knew I'd suffer too much if I bridged the gap on all the attackers. We rode strongly at the end. I was the fastest of the four so it went well for me."
Japanese cyclists had their moments of glory with junior rider Kento Omachi setting the best time in the opening time trial ahead of the first professional Petr Vakov (Etixx-Quick Step). Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida), racing with Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek-Segafredo) as the Tour de France-Japan team, then won the points race.
The criterium itself - the main event - started on a fast note with six riders breaking away: Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quick Step), Michal Golas (Team Sky), Taisei Kobayahsi (Japan), Kazushige Kuboki (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Hideto Nakane (Aisan). Bardet went solo with 23km to go and was replaced at the front by his team-mate Alexis Vuillermoz, who saw an opportunity to get cheered as he took off with the two local stars Beppu and Arashiro - the first Japanese cyclists to complete the Tour de France in 2009.
"With these two guys, it felt like being at the front on the Champs-Elysées - they're so popular!", Vuillermoz told Cyclingnews.
The trio led the race from 15km to 5km to go. As they got reined in, Froome, Sagan, Hatsuyama and Yates made the winning move. An average speed of 41.7km/h was recorded in the 57km long race, which is quite high for professional cyclists during their off-season.
"I didn't expect the race to be that fast - it was certainly a long lasting effort," added Vuillermoz. "The finale was a bit similar to stage 11 to Montpellier with Sagan. I didn't want the race to end with a sprint so I attacked with two laps to go but he came across to me straight away. The crowd was absolutely amazing, as always in Japan. They're so knowledgeable about the sport. They follow everything so closely. It's special to finish the season here."
The Saitama Criterium is set to welcome Tour de France champions for the next three years at least.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff Team||1:22:02|
|2||Sho Hatsuyuma (Jpn) Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team|
|3||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky|
|4||Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange||0:00:05|
|5||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx - Quick-Step||0:00:12|
|6||Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|7||Fumiyuki Beppu (Jpn) Trek-Segafredo|
|8||Shimpei Fukuda (Jpn) Aisan Racing Team|
|9||Zico Waeytens (Bel) Team Giant-Alpecin|
|10||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|11||Koen De Kort (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin|
|12||Takeaki Ayabe (Jpn) Aisan Racing Team|
|13||Hayato Okamoto (Jpn) Japan|
|14||Daisuke Kaneko (Jpn) Matrix Powertag|
|15||Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|16||Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|17||Eiya Hashimoto (Jpn) Japan|
|18||Kazuki Kobayashi (Jpn) Japan|
|19||Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff Team|
|20||Hideto Nakane (Jpn) Aisan Racing Team|
|21||Georg Preidler (Aut) Team Giant-Alpecin||0:00:18|
|22||Ryohei Komori (Jpn) Aisan Racing Team|
|23||Julien Vermote (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|24||Mikaël Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|25||Yuya Amikaru (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team|
|26||Wouter Poels (Ned) Team Sky|
|27||Ian Boswell (USA) Team Sky|
|28||Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange|
|29||Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin|
|30||Michael Kolar (Svk) Tinkoff Team|
|31||Pawel Poljanski (Pol) Tinkoff Team|
|32||Petr Vakoc (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|33||Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Orica-BikeExchange|
|34||Christian Meier (Can) Orica-BikeExchange|
|35||Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Lampre - Merida|
|36||Kohei Uchima (Jpn) Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team|
|37||Michal Golas (Pol) Team Sky|
|38||Ryu Suzuki (Jpn) Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team|
|39||Yuri Kobashi (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team|
|40||Yuma Koishi (Jpn) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|41||Ryota Nishizono (Jpn) Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team|
|42||Taisei Kobayashi (Jpn) Japan|
|43||Kazushige Kuboki (Jpn) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|44||Manabu Shibashi (Jpn) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|45||Marino Kobayashi (Jpn) Nippo - Vini Fantini|
|46||Shigetomo Nakanishi (Jpn) Korail Cycling Team|
|47||Keisuke Kimura (Jpn) Shimano Racing Team|
|48||Kosuke Aso (Jpn) Korail Cycling Team|
|49||Kenji Itami (Jpn) Korail Cycling Team|
|50||Satoshi Nakagawa (Jpn) Matrix Powertag|
|DNF||Ryosuke Hashimoto (Jpn) Matrix Powertag|
Latest on Cyclingnews
Hosking takes the win at women's Tour of GuangxiVos finishes third to win overall Women's WorldTour classification
Carl Fredrik Hagen: This season has been much better than I expected28-year-old enjoys fine debut season in WorldTour
Campenaerts' road to Tokyo 2020 Olympics complicated by World Championships setbackBelgian on NTT, Tour de France and extra gains
2020 Giro d'Italia route: All the rumours ahead of the big reveal103rd corsa rosa expected to end with mountainous final week and TT to Milan