Tour of Hainan: Benfatto takes his turn

Marco Benfatto (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) claimed stage 7 of the Tour of Hainan, the 95th victory of the year for Italian riders in races of category 1 and above. It was a full Italian triumph with Imerio Cima, Andrea Guardini and Manuel Belletti settling for second, third and fourth while fifth placed Raymond Kreder retains the overall lead.

“It was either [double stage winner] Manuel Belletti or myself to sprint for Androni today and when I told him that I felt very well, he replied that I should go for it,” Benfatto said. “Everything went well. I took a good position. It was a very fast sprint and the key was to get out of the box as close as possible to the finish line.”

Androni’s third option for the sprint, Davide Ballerini, was a non-starter in Wuzhishan. Chinese sensation of the year Lyu Xianjing from Hengxiang claimed five more KOM points atop the first hill of stage 7, only 6km after the start in Wuzhishan. After that, it was a hard battle to break away on the downhill heading to the south coast of Hainan.

“I’m very tired after seven stages, as I’m not used to doing stage races on the road,” said the mountain biker Lyu. “I’m very happy to retain those two jerseys [polka dot and best Asian rider] today although it required a lot of efforts again. My team-mates helped me to get the points at the first KOM, after which I tried to save energy in the peloton.”

After 37km of racing, Australia’s Jason Lea (Bennelong-Swisswellness) and Jiang Zhihui (Mitchelton-BikeExchange) managed to ride away. They were joined by Dutchman Wim Kleiman (Monkey Town).

“It was a pretty aggressive start on the first KOM,” Lea said. “Pretty much all the teams wanted to be in the break today, as it was a short stage and nobody knew how people would recover from the previous two days but we worked pretty well all day together. We were caught at about 2km to go. It’s a shame it was so close to the finish. But we gave it 100%. It is what it is.”

With 50km to go, the break’s advantage was 2:30, down from a maximum lead of 3:30. 25km before the finish, Lea made it back to the front group after a front wheel puncture. The trio got caught 2km before the inevitable bunch gallop. Many riders were racing thinking of Tuesday and its 7km climb to the finish in Changjiang, which is set to shape the final overall classification on the eve of the grand finale in Danzhou.

“Tomorrow, I expect to lose the yellow jersey, hopefully to my teammate Benjamin Prades who is in a good shape”, Kreder said. “So far, he didn’t lose any time. He was always in the front group. He was with the best riders at the top of the climb yesterday. Tomorrow he has a big chance to better his second position overall from last year. We’ll help him as much as we can. To be realistic, the climb will be too hard for me.”

Prades was the runner up last year. He’s 35 seconds ahead of defending champion Jacopo Mosca (Wilier Triestina) whose team-mate Simone Velasco is set to be their GC rider this time around. Swiss super talent Gino Mäder, Frenchman Julien El Farès who was third overall in 2015 and Italy’s Fausto Masnada are firm contenders for the overall victory.

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