In the first Saitama Criterium by Le Tour de France, Chris Froome finished in the position he held with such authority in July, distancing Green Jersey Peter Sagan and World Champion Rui Costa on the last lap of the main circuit! The Sky leader sustained his form, and treated the 200,000 people who lined the city course to cheer the riders on to a fine display.
It was very much Froome's season! And he was keen to confirm it in style in his last outing of a year he started with a win in Asia in the Tour of Oman. With his right arm aloft, index finger pointing to the skies, his salute as he soloed over the finishing line in Saitama was even reminiscent of Mont Ventoux. The Japanese city that is most actively promoting cycling had managed to attract the Tour de France and its major players, many of whom were rudely awoken by their first experience of an earthquake. And perhaps because they're used to these minor earth tremors, the Japanese riders were the most enterprising, and also the most effective, in the first part of the programme. After eight laps of the first points race, Fumiyuki Beppu took the spoils in front of his home crowd, enjoying "an incredible feeling, and the pleasure of hearing the spectators shouting my name on the last lap." But it was his compatriot Yusuke Hatanaka, slightly unsure of his achievement but far more consistent in the intermediate sprints, who won the first points race. "I didn't think I'd won, but in fact I had two points more than Fumi, it's amazing." The other half of the field contested the second points race, and Arthur Vichot thought he'd won his first race in the colours of the French road race champion by beating Sagan and Costa, before realising that another Japanese rider, Yasuharu Nakajima, who had been more active at the start of the race, had beaten him by one point. He'll have to wait for 2014! When the main criterium began, things immediately looked trickier for the Japanese riders as an eight-man breakaway formed, including Marcel Kittel, Rui Costa and Geraint Thomas. After the peleton came back together with seven laps to go, the attacks came thick and fast, and a new group of eleven riders got away, including Richie Porte, Christophe Riblon and… Fumiyuki Beppu! The Lyon resident from Chigasaki put the hammer down and even managed to take sole control of the race, starting the last five laps with a small advantage, but lost his position to a puncture. With three laps, or eight km, to go, the peloton was back together again, and the pace was rising. But four km out from the finish, the stellar trio of Peter Sagan, Rui Costa and Chris Froome broke away. Wearing the yellow jersey he won on the roads of France in July, the Briton, driven by the same winning mindset as on Mont Ventoux, managed an acceleration in the final kilometre which the Green Jersey and the World Champion couldn't live with. "I think they looked at each other, and I capitalised," the winner on the day explained modestly, savouring above all the prospect of a well-earned break. "It's a great way to finish a year which has been unforgettable. At many times it was really hard, including overcoming this final hurdle. But the fact that there were so many people here today encouraging us really put the icing on the cake."
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