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(AFP) – Japan’s sole representative at this year’s Tour de France, Yukiya Arashiro, lapped up the attention of the media and his supporters in Marseille on Wednesday after a prominent performance during the long fifth stage from Cagnes-sur-Mer.
The 28-year-old, who won the Japanese national road race title for the second time this year, was one of six riders who broke away early on and went on to open up a lead of more than 13min on the peloton.
That gap was slowly whittled down before Arashiro was swallowed up by the pack with around seven kilometres remaining, before Mark Cavendish eventually triumphed in a sprint finish.
But Arashiro earned himself a climbing point on the category four Cote de la Roquebrussanne and also earned plenty of plaudits, both from locals and from those who stayed up to watch on television back home in Japan, despite the time difference.
“It was a good day, in the sunshine, by the sea,” he told media gathered by the Europcar team bus.
“I am disappointed because at one point I thought about going all the way to the finish, but that is the way it is.
“I’ve just been doing interviews with Japanese television and they were really encouraging me at the end and are really happy with my ride.”
Arashiro is appearing in the Tour de France for the fourth time, with his first appearance coming in 2009 when he became the first rider from his country to complete the sport’s toughest race.
That year he finished fifth on stage two, which was also a flat ride along the Mediterranean coast — in that case to Brignoles — and was also won by Cavendish.
This time around he was credited with the same time as Cavendish, after a crash marred the final 250 metres of the race, and he lies 71st overall, 3min 42sec adrift of yellow jersey wearer Simon Gerrans in the overall standings.
His aim now must be to better last year’s 84th-place finish and give fans and journalists in Japan more to shout about.
“There are numerous Japanese journalists here and plenty of fans too,” he said. “I have seen plenty of Japanese flags, which gives me a boost and provides me with extra motivation.”
Arashiro’s impressive performance in his national champion’s jersey was not the only piece of good news for the Europcar team, with French Tour debutant Kevin Reza also featuring in the breakaway until being reeled in with less than five kilometres remaining of the stage into Marseille.
In addition, Pierre Rolland remains in the polka dot jersey as he continues to lead the King of the Mountains competition, although the real mountain stages do not get underway until this weekend, when the Tour hits the Pyrenees.