Rui Costa wins three rider sprint to claim rain-soaked Japan Cup

Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) takes victory in a rain-soaked edition of the Japan Cup in 2023
Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) takes victory in a rain-soaked edition of the Japan Cup in 2023 (Image credit: Japan Cup/Intermarché-Circus-Wanty)

Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) took victory in the rain at the Japan Cup, beating his break companions in a three-way sprint to take his fifth win in a resurgent season.

Felix Engelhardt (Jayco-AlUla) took second, his challenge fading in the closing metres, while Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) was gapped in the final charge and took third place.

“Winning this Japan Cup has a special meaning for me," said Costa. "I started the season by winning my first race in the Mallorca Challenge in January and today I took the win in my last race in Japan. 

"Just like then, it was a very hard day because of the cold and the ongoing rain from start to finish."

The 1.Pro race was expected to play out over 16 laps of the Utsunomiya circuit, with its climb of Mt Kogashi, for a total distance of 164.8km. However, before the race started organisers announced that due to bad weather it would be cut to 13 laps for a total of 133.9km.

With the shortened distance, it was aggressive racing from the start and by the last few laps a group of around 15 had made its way up the road. The race, with its solid climb and technical and wet descent, however, split up further as the final laps approached.

Costa was out the front alone to claim the last mountain points on the 12th lap, but he was later joined by Martin and Engelhardt, with the trio entering the final lap together.

The three rider winning break

The three rider winning break (Image credit: Japan Cup/Intermarché-Circus-Wanty)

"In the last kilometre I tried to go early, but I didn’t quite have the legs anymore and I blew up in the last 75 metres," said second-placed Engelhardt. "But I’m really happy with the result and it’s great to get a result again after struggling a bit at the Vuelta."

The race also included a 37.5km criterium on Saturday, which was won by Edward Theuns (Lidl-Trek) with Riley Sheehan (Israel-Premier Tech) coming second and Axel Zingle (Cofidis) third. Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny), who came over the line tenth, was penalised by the UCI after being caught on camera delivering a headslap to a rider widely identified as Greek racer Giorgios Bouglas just as the two were crossing the line. 

Van Gils ended up coming fourth in the road race, crossing the line solo 27 seconds back from race winner Costa and more than a minute ahead of Costa's fifth-placed teammate Georg Zimmerman. The Japan Cup, along with the Veneto Classic late on Sunday, brings the ProSeries racing for 2023 to a close.


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