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After a hard, selective race, Mollema won a 7-rider sprint at the end of the Japan Cup; Ulissi and Arashiro rounded out the top 3

Photo: Sirotti

BAUKE MOLLEMA

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DIEGO ULISSI

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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YUKIYA ARASHIRO

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18.10.2015 @ 17:21 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Bauke Mollema (Trek) ended his season in the best possible way as he came out on top in the final big one-day race of the year, Japan Cup. After his team had controlled most of the race, he responded to the many attacks on the main climb in the finale and finally beat Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Yukiya Arashiro (Japan) into the minor podium positions in a 7-rider sprint.

 

A few days ago, Bauke Mollema wrote on his blog on Cyclingnews that he has one big goal for the 2016 season: to win more races. This year has been a successful one for the Dutchman who has achieved numerous top 10 results but until today his only individual win was the overall victory at the Tour of Alberta.

 

Apparently, it seems that he is already starting to deliver before 2016 has even started. Alongside four of his Trek teammates, Mollema still had one race left on his 2015 calendar, the Japan Cup, and the Dutchman came out on top in the biggest one-day race in Asia.

 

The race was held on a 10.3km circuit in Utsonomiya and as usual it included a tough climb and a descent to a slightly rising finishing straight. That has made it a happy hunting ground for Ardennes specialists like Mollema and this year the Dutchman proved to be unstoppable.

 

After the early break had been caught, it was a 25-rider group that had gathered and the attacking started immediately. Genki Yamamoto (Nippo) and Matej Mohoric (Cannondale) took off and had a 20-second advantage at the start of the penultimate lap.

 

As they hit the climb, Lampre-Merida played their next card as Diego Ulissi and Jan Polanc both went on the attack. Yukiya Arashiro (Japan) and Mollema followed and later Sebastian Henao (Sky) would also make the junction, creating a five-rider lead group after having passed the two attackers.

 

As they went down the descent, Ben Swift (Sky) and Benjamin Prades (Matrix) made it back and later Mohoric also made the junction. Hence, it was an 8-rider lead group that started the final lap together.

 

Polanc was doing a lot of work for Ulissi but he was unable to prevent Floris Gerts (BMC) from getting back before they hit the climb with a 30-second advantage over the next group. Here Ulissi attacked again and only Mollema and Henao could follow.

 

At the top, the trio had a 12-second advantage over Arashiro but he quickly made it back on the descent. Polanc and Gerts also made the junction and finally Mohoric also made it back before the sprint started.

 

Despite being up against fast finishers like Ulissi, Arashiro and Gerts, Mollema proved his class and freshness at the end of a long season as he took the win. Ulissi and Arashiro completed the podium.

 

Most of the teams from today’s race now move to China for the Tour of Hainan which starts on Tuesday. Among the teams that will line up in the Chinese race are WorldTour teams Lampre-Merida and Trek that will be joined by Astana.

 

A circuit race

The 2015 edition of the Japan Cup was held on a 10.3km circuit in Utsonomiya that had been slightly changed compared to the recent editions. The riders would do 14 laps for an overall distance of 144.2km and as the course contained a tough climb – with the finish line coming on the lower slopes – it was still a course for punchy climbers like it had been in the past.

 

It was a relatively pleasant day when the riders gathered for the start and there were lots of teams keen on going on the attack. Very early seven riders managed to get clear and the peloton quickly allowed to gap to go out to more than a minute as they preferred a gentle start to the race.

 

Cunego abandons

Martijn Verschoor (Novo Nordisk), Eric Sheppard (Gusto), Daiki Yasuhara (Matrix), Yokihiro Doi (UKYO), Ryo Suzuki (Nasu), Kazuki Aoyanagi (Blitzen) and Shao Hsuan Lu (Attaque) continued to extend their advantage but the climb was taking its toll. Shepperd was briefly distanced but managed to make it back while riders were also getting dropped from the peloton.

 

Unfortunately, a bad crash ended the race for the Nippo pair of Damiano Cunego and Giacomo Berlato but that didn’t stop the peloton from pressing on. As they started the third lap, they had kept the gap at a reasonable 3.10.

 

WorldTour teams in control

Sheppard and Ayoyagi were fighting for the KOM points and it was the local rider that generally had the upper hand. Meanwhile, Trek and Sky set the pace in the peloton and quickly neutralized a counterattack from Thomas Lebas (Bridgestone).

 

At the start of the fourth lap, the gap was 3.27 and at the halfway point it was 3.36. Lampre-Merida were now also contributing to the chase as Chun Kai Feng was trading pulls with Bernhard Eisel (Sky) and the Trek pair of Fabian Cancellara and Yaroslav Popovych.

 

Sheppard gets clear

Sheppard also won the next KOM sprint and he managed to distance his companions. At the next passage of the line, the peloton ad a delay of 3.18 while the chasers were at 33 seconds.

 

As they went up the climb, Suzuki was dropped from the chase group which was losing ground. As they crossed the line again, the gap had gone out to one minute while the peloton was at 3.02. The climbing was taking its toll and defending champion Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) was one of the many to have abandoned.

 

The peloton gets closer

Yasuhara was the next to get dropped from the chase group which was again getting closer. At the start of the 9th lap, they were just 30 seconds behind while the peloton was at 2.12.

 

Shepherd won the final KOM sprint before he was brought back by his chasers. However, they were losing ground quickly and as they started the 10th lap, they were just 1.15 ahead.

 

The attacking starts

Lu paid for his effort was left behind as they went up the climb where the Blitzen team surprisingly had taken control. That spelled the end for Cancellara who abandoned the race after a day of hard work.

 

The Japanese team went on the attack with Shinri Suzuki and Nairyuki Masuda who were by Sho Hatsuyama (Bridgestone). Lampre-Merida immediately started to chase. However, they could not prevent the three chasers from catching the leaders.

 

Verschoor takes off

Verschoor went on the attack and he had a small advantage at the start of the 12th lap. However, the peloton was just 16 seconds further back and they slowly started to pick up the early attackers. Meanwhile, Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek) and Feng ended their day of hard work.

 

Hatsuyama managed to win the final KOM sprint after having passed Verschoor. Meanwhile the peloton was splintering to pieces and they quickly brought everything back together on the descent. Moments later, Lampre-Merida kicked into action to set the scene for the exciting finale.

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