Kristian House wins stage 6 of the Tour of Japan - 22/05/10

Superlatives are often chucked around commentary booths and press rooms with casual abandon. Whilst it’s rare that any victory is underserved, but there’s an easy way to do things and there’s a tough way. Today we won, and we did it the tough way.

After the disappointment of Mt Fuji, the team gathered in their dormitory at the Japanese Keirin school and hatched a plan. Take the time lost on the mountain and turn it to their advantage, because with distance comes freedom, the freedom to attack and perhaps enough to win.

Stage 6 of the race took place in and around the Japanese Keirin School, a vast site that boasts, 3 outdoor all weather velodromes, BMX, 4X, Downhill and Cross Country courses as well as the 12km road circuit around which todays stage would roll. In addition, if all that failed to entertain, the venue is also home to a theme park, a crazy golf course, and no doubt many other delights we didn’t have time to sample.

The bunch rolled away from the start with 100km of racing ahead and it wasn’t surprising to hear numbers 11 and 12 being called over race radio after just 4km as a group of 9 clipped away from the front of the peloton. They quickly gained a lead of 35 seconds as the De Rosa team of Salerno seemed content to ride tempo at the front of the pack.

The next lap however delivered a major surprise as race radio sparked into life and announced that there was one lone leader, number 12, Darren Lapthorne of Rapha Condor Sharp.

In the team car behind the main bunch there was a brief double-take as manager looked at press officer and press officer looked at manager, each wondering if what we’d heard was correct. After a tense wait, the next time check at 13km revealed that Darren was indeed the lone leader on the road and that he already had a lead of 40 seconds over his erstwhile companions who now in turn led the main bunch by 1 minute and 50 seconds.

A tense wait ensued in the car as we counted the kilometers until we were called forward, something that eventually happened after 26km. Passing the bunch on this circuit was an experience that would easily compete with the thrill and excitement of any of the roller-coasters and fairground rides that make up this surreal facility. The squeal of tyres mingled with the horns of the TV and commissaire motos who constantly push forward to maintain a sterile bubble between riders on the road.

Passing the chase group including Kristian we moved quickly up to Darren, reaching him at around the 30km mark to see for ourselves how the rider who had looked so laboured the day before had transformed himself into the animator of the race.

Darren, who had been in pensive mood before the start of the stage looked in through the window of the team car as we drew alongside. Before John had a chance to ask how he was feeling, Darren left us in no uncertainty as to who would be dictating the race today:

“We’re gonna win this fucker.”

Was all we got from Darren before he crested the brow of the climb and dived once more into the tucked position that enabled him to travel faster than any car or moto, but more importantly faster than the bunch as the kilometers disappeared rapidly under our wheels.

Back we dropped to Kristian’s group some 55 seconds behind and relayed the news. John simply shouted Dude, he’s good and Kristian knew he’d have no work to do for a few laps at least, as Darren continued to tap out a rhythm that no-one else could follow.

Over the coming laps the chase group got weaker each time the race reared uphill until just three riders were left in pursuit. Number 106, Hiratsuka of Shimano, and 95, Shimizu of Bridgestone Anchor, and… number 11, Kristian House who sat on the back, contributing nothing to the chase.

The gap between Darren and his three chasers hovered between 35 and 40 sconds until just before the 45km mark when the gap began to close. John Herety gave the order to wait for the chasers, leaving a quartet of leaders to share the lead and the load for the next few circuits of the course.

Back in the bunch the De Rosa team continued to ride tempo at the front of the group, limiting the lead of the break to two and a half minutes until the 60km mark. Then, those teams whose top 10 positions on GC were now under threat and those still in need of a stage win began to attack.

This flurry of activity saw the lead of the front four begin to erode and sensing the danger, John Herety moved forward to deliver the last team talk of the day. He ordered them not to wait if they were able to distance any of their co-escapees, uphill or down.

Shimizu was the first to capitulate, losing touch on a short rise. Despite battling honourably and holding the gap at 15 seconds for several kilometers, he gradually drifted back to the bunch. John in the team car meanwhile delivered the last supplies of drinks and SIS gels to Kristian and Darren before feeding shut down at the 20km to go mark.

The three riders left at the head of the race continued to cooperate until at KM76 Kristian attacked on the run in to the start/finish area, establishing an eight second lead. Darren was left to take his turn at playing the role of team mate, sitting on the wheel of Hiratsuka as he attempted to claw back the reigning British National Champion.

Gradually, Kristian’s lead increased over the next few kilometers until at 85km (with 15km left), he had a 30 second advantage over his chasers and a further 45 over the main bunch.

We approached the start finish area for the penultimate time, the bell rung and traditional Japanese drums beat out a rhythm that we hoped would be enough to propel Kristian to victory. We moved alongside, doused him with water, encouraged, cajoled, threatened, anything to coax a little more momentum from our loan leader. Finally, called out by the commissaire we pulled over to the side of the road, nothing left to do now except watch the bunch pass and wait for an announcement from race radio as we rolled in behind the main bunch.

As the bunch passed the 500m to go banner we finally heard the words we’d wanted. Race radio announced race number 11, Kristian House of Rapha Condor wins.

Epic.