The riders on the Tour de France Saitama Criterium enjoyed a day’s relaxation on the eve of the three races on the programme for the 7th edition. In different guises to their usual outfits, Michal Kwiatkowski was particularly convincing at karate, whilst Primoz Roglic revealed to the crowd at the Super Arena Saitama that he has a particularly skilful right foot.
However, tomorrow it will be question of pedal power separating the winners from the rest of the pack, especially in the 59.5-km main race (with 17 laps of a 3.5-km circuit). Beforehand, the team-time trial and sprint competition will already have produced some of the day’s winners.
A TEAM-TIME TRIAL TO KICK PROCEEDINGS OFF
To open the programme, tomorrow morning on its 3.1-km route, the Criterium circuit will host a team race against the clock in which the riders will set off in groups of three. The fourth rider in each team will be taking part in a two-legged sprint competition: the winners of the four qualification races will take part in a four-rider final. For each of these races, the sprinters will set off behind a derny that will set the pace before peeling off 800 metres from the line, at which point the titanic battles will commence
K IS FOR KWIATO… AND KARATE
After reconnoitring the route of the time-trial at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Michal Kwiatkowski showed a certain amount of skill in another discipline that has been additionally included in the Olympic programme for next year. The Polish rider was invited to take part in a karate lesson given by the leading pupils at the Saitama Sakae High School alongside Lilian Calmejane, Marcel Kittel, Matteo Trentin and Yukiya Arashiro, initially displaying the most determination and announcing that his kimono made him “feel stronger”. Indeed, thanks to his level of concentration, he put in the most credible performance, whilst the German sprinter and Calmejane found themselves hampered by a strange affliction of confusing their left and right hands! Although all the novices then successfully passed the exam involving breaking a plank (made of polystyrene, of course), Kwiato did not refrain from reminding those present that, once he had passed the initiation, he felt ready to honour the black belt knotted around his waist, with a bold “bring me a real wooden plank, please!”
FEET ARE NOT JUST FOR PEDALLING!
Egan Bernal, Romain Bardet, Primoz Roglic and Jakob Fuglsang enjoyed a brand-new experience when they tried out a session of foot-darts, which involves hitting a giant target not with darts but with a football. In theory, the safe bet to win should have been Romain Bardet, the only man present to have played before, at the Vieille Brioude football club, or perhaps Egan Bernal, whose football version of the Yellow Jersey made it almost look like Angel di Maria had put on a Colombian football top by mistake. However, even though both of them got very close to the 50-point bullseye at the centre of the target which would have given them victory, Primoz Roglic combined talent with success to score a triple 19, demonstrating that he was right to have accepted this last minute invitation in Saitama. In the end, the winner of the Vuelta beat the winner of the Tour de France in the final classification, which may not necessarily be the case when they climb back onto their bikes.
Foto: Gerhard Plomitzer
FROOME COMPETING IN THE TIME-TRIAL ONLY
The four-time winner of the Tour de France, who fell heavily on the most recent edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné will be back on his bike again tomorrow but only to take part in the team time trial, in the company of his Ineos team-mates Egan Bernal and Jonathan Castroviejo. With his physical rehabilitation work still underway, the British rider has preferred to miss out on the pack race, which he won in 2013 during the first edition of the Japanese race: “At the moment, I’m capable of getting on the bike and riding, but not racing within the pack. If I have to follow the changes in rhythm or kick after bends, I just won’t be able to keep the pace. I still need to build up my strength to reach that level”.
25 JAPANESE RIDERS IN THE PACK
The Japanese delegation, which tomorrow will be competing alongside the 24 riders from the Tour de France teams in the main race, welcomed a special guest: Yukiya Arashiro, who has participated seven times in the Tour de France and has finished the 12 grand tours in total that he has started. At the age of 35 years old, the pioneer of Japanese cycling on the international scene should be able to hold his own against his country’s young emerging riders, including, for example, Shotaro Iribe from the Shimano Racing team, who recently beat him in a two man sprint for the title of Japanese champion. The Ukyo team, led by 2017 Japanese champion Yusuke Hatanaka and his counterpart in the young riders category, Kosuke Takeyama, will also be jerseys worth watching in the pack (in red and black). As for the time-trial, the Bridgestone Cycling team is expected to make it difficult for the elite squads, given that they have several track specialists capable of demonstrating their explosive power on the dynamic format on the programme