Italy’s Marco Benfatto of Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec whose name means “well done” claimed stage 7 of the Country Garden Cup 13th Tour of Hainan as he and his compatriots outsprinted the rest of the field to take the top four positions on the line with Imerio Cima, Andrea Guardini and Manuel Belletti in second, third and fourth place. Race leader Raymond Kreder of Ukyo finished fifth and retained the yellow jersey ahead of the much awaited queen stage to Changjiang.
Davide Ballerini was a non-starter in Wuzhishan so the options of the Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec team for winning a bunch sprint were reduced to two, which was still the double of most of the other squads. It came down to choosing between Manuel Belletti and Marco Benfatto who would be their top end sprinter. Although Belletti gave some guarantees after being the only rider to have won two stages at the Tour of Hainan this year, he gave way to his team-mate who made it clear during the race that he was up for it. Despite the threat of the likes of Jakub Mareczko who was unbeaten in Sanya where he took his first ever Asian victory in 2015 and repeated his success last year, Benfatto was smart to wait for the very last moment to get out of the box and overtake his compatriots.
Chinese sensation Lyu Xianjing from Hengxiang sprinted for five more KOM points atop the first hill of stage 7 only 6km after the start in Wuzhishan, then it was a hard battle for breaking away in the downhill heading to the south coast of Hainan. After 37km of racing, Australia’s Jason Lea (Bennelong-Swisswellness) and Jiang Zhihui (Mitchelton-BikeExchange) managed to ride away. They were rejoined by Dutchman Wim Kleiman (Monkey Town).
With 50km to go, their advantage was 2’30’’ after they had registered a maximum gap 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 with the 7km uphill finish in Changjiang that is set to shape the final overall classification on the eve of the grand finale in Danzhou.
Quotes of the day:
Stage 7 winner Marco Benfatto (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec): “It was either [double stage winner] Manuel Belletti or myself to sprint for Androni today and I told him that I felt very well, he replied that I should go for it. Everything went well. I took a good position. It was a very fast sprint and the key was to get out of the box the nearest possible from the finish line. I have had very good experiences in China before but this is my first time at the Tour of Hainan. It’s a very good organisation and the roads are suitable for an excellent race.”
Imerio Cima (Nippo-Vini Fantini), second: I almost believed I was going to win until 25 metres to go but there was a bit of a headwind and Marco Benfatto passed me at the very end. Congratulations to the winner. I opened my sprint from a bit far out because it was a bit chaotic in the curve 800 metres before the end but this is cycling and it’s been a regular sprint. After the bad luck that kept me away from racing for three months this year, today I wanted to make a birthday gift to myself with a victory but I’m still happy with the second place.”
Andrea Guardini (Bardiani-CSF), third: “At 700 metres to go, I was con [Mirko] Maestri and [Paolo] Simion. We were in tenth position before launching the sprint on the right side. At 300 metres, I found myself battling against [Jakub] Mareczko to stay behind my train. To anticipate him, I made the mistake to start maybe a bit too early. There was a headwind and that has played against me but in favour of Marco Benfatto. He did well.”
Overall leader Raymond Kreder (Ukyo): “Italian sprinters are always doing very well in China. In the past couple of years, they’ve sent some of their best sprinters here. Another top 3 for them today shows that they like to race in China. I finished just behind them. Tomorrow, I expect to lose the yellow jersey, hopefully to my team-mate Benjamin Prades who is in a good shape. 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.”
King of the Mountains and best Asian rider Lyu Xinjiang (Hengxiang): “I’m very tired after seven stages, as I’m not use to do stage races on the road. But I’m very happy to retain those two jerseys today although it required a lot of efforts again. My team-mates helped me to catch the points of the first KOM, after which I tried to save energy in the peloton. I don’t know too much about the hilltop finish tomorrow but I’ll do my best.”
Most active rider Jason Lea (Bennelong-Swisswellness): “It was a pretty aggressive start on the first KOM. Pretty much all the teams wanted to be in the break today, being a short stage and not knowing how people put up from the previous two days but I managed to get away with one of the Mitchelton riders [Jiang Zhihui] and a Monkey Town rider [Wim Kleinman] and we worked pretty well all day together. We’ve been 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.”