GUNSAN, South Korea — With only three days remaining, the action — and the weather — is heating up at Tour de Korea with Dutchman Wouter Wippert (Drapac Pro Cycling) picking up the win on stage 6 (193.7km) ahead of Shiki Kuroeda (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and New Zealand’s Patrick Bevin (Avanti Racing Team).
Race leader and three-time stage winner Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) conceded four bonus seconds to Bevin to maintain a four-second overall lead with two stages remaining after finishing fifth behind Joon Young Seo (KSPO).
For Wippert, 24, the day was a return to early race form that saw the 2015 Tour Down Under stage winner cruise to an opening stage win after both Ewan and Bevin went down in a crash-marred finish.
“I had three really hard days,” Wippert told VeloNews. “I wasn’t feeling good and not sleeping at all. Last night, I fell asleep at 8:30 and woke up at 8:30 this morning, so I had a massive night’s sleep and I felt really good today.
“I told the guys we had to commit today in the last 30km with the tailwind and crosswind, and the boys did a terrific job. [Graeme Brown] started his lead-out with 1km to go, and at 500m he went and I had a perfect run in …”
According to Wippert, Brown gave specific instructions on how to advance toward the front and finish with a much-needed victory.
“I was sitting on ‘Brownie’ with 1km to go and he turned around to me and said, ‘F—ck, follow my wheel and you will win today,’ and I didn’t say anything and just followed him. At 500m he chased Adam Blythe (Orica-GreenEdge) down and he started yelling ‘Go, Go, Go’ and I had my [55-tooth chainring] on and with a tailwind, so from the moment I started my sprint I knew I had it.”
While there has been little to cheer since Wippert’s stage 1 heroics on Sunday, both Wippert and Drapac sport director Keith Flory were all smiles following the race on Thursday.
“It’s always good to get a win … always very good,” said Flory. “Motivation is never a problem for stage wins, it just gives us a little extra boost and you always want to follow a win with more wins.”
Even with the win and bonus time, Wippert’s victory does little for his overall standing, while Ewan’s fifth-place finish keeps Bevin still in the hunt with just a four-second deficit heading into the 145km stage 7 from Gunsan to Daejeon.
“No one helped us today,” claimed Ewan. “It was mostly just Jens [Mouris] and [Michael Hepburn] again on the front today. We were lucky there was only a two-man breakaway today so it was easy to control.
“In the final there was Adam [Blythe], Mitch [Docker] and myself, and when the attack started to happen with 3km to go we kind of lost each other a little bit. I stayed back with Mitch but we were too far back, and with the tailwind I couldn’t make up enough ground.”
With only two stages remaining, the 20-year-old Orica neo-pro cannot afford to let his guard down with Bevin still in the hunt for GC.
“I was a little bit tired to start with today, but as the day went on and I warmed up a bit and started feeling a little bit better,” Ewan told VeloNews. “I was feeling alright today, but I think like every other day, we will try to go for a stage win and hopefully we can nail the last two stages and claim the yellow jersey outright.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.