Making his presence felt... Fumiyuki Beppu. Photo: AFP
When Orica-GreenEDGE sports director Matt White told his riders they could race as they wish on a hilly and hot day in the Giro d'Italia unsuited for the Australian sprinter Matt Goss who is their leader in the event, Japanese teammate Fumiyuki Beppu did not waste a minute before raising his hand.
The starter's flag had barely been dropped for the 205km 7th stage from Recanati to Rocco di Cambio when Beppu was in the day's main break ignited by Italian Matteo Rabottini (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia). As soon as Rabottini went, Beppu and Switzerland's Reto Holenstein (Team Netapp) followed, with Italian Mirko Salvaggi (Vacansoleil) joining the trio six kilometres later to make up a foursome that would stay away for most of the day.
It was not for fun, but to try and win the stage.
On a stage littered with hills, as well as the 20km second category climb to the finish line at an altitude of 1383m, the break managed to milk a maximum lead of 8 minutes 55 seconds after 91km.
But their attack failed to reach the finish before the group split, after Rabottini accelerated in a bid to solo all the way to a career highlight win. Rabottoni was unable to pull off the fairytale win he wanted - caught in the last 15km by the fast-pedalling peloton.
Make no mistake, Beppu, 29, was not out there with his three fellow breakaways for the 'publicity show' that his five hours of leading the stage may have been interpreted as by some. He was very much out there to try and claim the biggest victory of his professional career that began in 2005.
"It was not for fun, but to try and win the stage. I tried but there were only three guys with me," Beppu told this website after finishing in 111th place, at 15 minutes 30 seconds to the Italian stage winner Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), who beat Italian Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and Luxembourg's Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) for the win on a hot sunny day that again saw the overall race leader's pink jersey - or 'maglia rosa' - change shoulders.
The new race leader for Sunday's 229km eighth stage from Salmona to Lago Laceno will be Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), who leads the Giro by 15 secs over Tiralongo and by 17 secs from Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) - Hesjedal and Rodriquez being serious overall contenders. Hesjedal, 31, the first Canadian to ever claim the Giro's pink jersey, owed his success to his fifth on the stage at 3 seconds.
For Beppu, who already has a 9th place in stage two at Horsens, Denmark, his foray off the front was a strong sign that he is in good form and augurs well for his ambitions for the Olympic Games road race in London later this year.
"We pushed hard to the bottom of the [last] climb. But I'm in pretty good condition so I tried. I am happy with the breakaway today," Beppu said.
"It was also good to show myself to Japan and the Australian people [watching the stage]. But the goal today was to try and win the stage, not to just get on TV," Beppu said, adding that he now hoped to recover and return to trying to help Goss claim a second victory in Monday's ninth stage.
"I might be busted tomorrow [for stage eight on Sunday]. I'll wait and see in the morning. Then the day after its the stage for 'Gossy'," Beppu said.
The Japanese rider is an important recruit for the Australian Orica-GreenEDGE team because it gives the squad a vital arm into the Asian market.
However, he is a highly credentialled rider, having started his career in 2005 in the former Discovery team that seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong used to ride for. Last year, he was the Japanese road and time trial champion, and he still holds the national road time trial title now.
In 2009, Beppu also rode in the Tour, finishing 112th from 180 starters and with best placings of 8th on stage 3 and 7th on stage 19. In that year's Tour, he was also awarded the 'Most Combative' award for his attacking race in the final and 21st stage that finished on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
In the international peloton, Beppu is a highly respected and popular rider who is known for his infectious smile, yet hard working ethic and loyalty.
Last year on March 12 - the day after the earthquake and tsunami struck north Japan in devastating proportion - he led a moment of silence by the peloton in memory of its victims before the start of that day's stage in the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy.
The Giro d'Italia (May 5-27)
- Distance: 3504km
- Sunday: Stage 8: Sulmona - Lago Laceno, 229km
- Type of stage: medium mountain
- Main difficulty: the length - second longest of the race. Very hilly, including 10km 2nd category climb to the last 4.5km.
- How to watch: TV - Live on Eurosport (Ch 511), Sunday from 11.15pm (AEST). Check schedule.
Rupert Guinness is covering the Giro d'Italia courtesy of Eurosport. All stages will be covered live by Eurosport. Sunday's stage 8 live coverage on Eurosport (Foxtel Ch 511) starts at 11.15pm (AEST). Check programs.