Joe Cooper from the Subway - Avanti Pro Cycling team closed the gap on the leader’s yellow jersey with an impressive display of climbing to win stage seven of the Air France Tour of New Caledonia this afternoon.
Today’s stage had three category two climbs and one category one climb inside the first 40 kilometres of racing, followed by a reasonably flat 50 kilometres to the finish.
“I had always planned to make a move in the hills on these key mountain stages,” Cooper said.
“I was less than three minutes off yellow at the start of racing today and have always had confidence I could make it up over stages six, seven and eight, that all have some tough climbs.”
After today’s fourth stage win Cooper moved up to second overall on general classification only one minute and 30 seconds behind Australian Lachlan Norris, and leads the King of the Mountain and sprint points competitions.
“Our plan was to try to get Nick (Subway - Avanti Pro Cycling team mate Nick Lovegrove) up the road and for me to bridge across on the first climb,” Cooper said.
“It didn't quite work out that way as the other teams wanted to keep it all together until the first climb.”
Lovegrove ensured the racing was hard by keeping the pace high, throwing in several attacks and he had established a small lead heading into the day’s first climb.
It was here that Cooper made his move, quickly passing his team mate with only one rider able to respond.
“I gave it a good nudge and took off like a motorbike when we hit the first climb and the yellow jersey got caught in the bunch and couldn’t get out to chase until I had a good gap,” Cooper said.
Cooper built a solid lead over the chasing bunch that included Tour leader Norris, eventually dropping his breakaway companion with one kilometre left to win the stage solo and move within striking distance of the overall lead with three stages left.
“I know I’m in a good position now to defend the tour title I won last year,” he said. “I lost some time when I missed a key break on stage one but I’ve backed myself to make up time on the climbs and with a time trial left as well, have confidence I can pull off the overall win.”
“I had planned on letting the guy with me (in the break) win the stage but he couldn’t keep coming through with only a few kilometres left and I knew I needed every second so pushed on and dropped him.”
Tomorrows eighth 104 kilometre stage starts in Houailou and goes through Canala before finishing in Col de Ciu. The stage continues one HC (hors catégorie) climb and five other significant climbs.