Bauke Mollema attacked with Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Nicholas Roche (Team Sky) at the bottom of the steep stage four summit climb and held on to finish in second place behind Wellens, with Roche crossing moments later for third.
"The last climb was quite tough, especially the first kilometer with 9% average, and Sky pushed really hard from the bottom," said Mollema. "And it's just before the end of that steep section that me [Wellens and Roche] went away. Then you had a section that was more flat, and the last 500 meters were quite steep again. So, it was a rather weird climb, but I am happy we still could make the difference at the end."
For the first three days, the Tour of Guangxi has been ruled by bunch sprints, but that changed in the 151-kilometer stage Sunday with a sharp three-kilometer uphill to the finish. It was touted as the most crucial stage of the six-day race, and the fight into the bottom caused a large crash with some five kilometers remaining.
Mollema added: "It was an important stage today, with the only uphill finish of this Tour of Guangxi. The climb was rather short, a bit under 3km, but I had really good legs today. The break got quite a lot of space today, so in the bunch we had to dig deep to catch them back. In the end everything came back together, but unfortunately, there was massive crash with less than 10 km to go, around 5km before the final climb. I managed to stay out of trouble, but Giacomo (Nizzolo) crashed quite hard in front of me - I believe I even rode a bit over him, sorry Giaco! - and also Pete was involved and so were 30 or more other riders. So that meant we went with a group of 50, maybe 60 riders, into the final."
Fortunately, Mollema – better suited to long mountain ascents – was in position to avoid the carnage and had the legs to stay with Wellens on the short, explosive climb.
"After one kilometer on that last climb, I went away with Nicholas Roche and Tim Wellens on the hardest part of the climb, and we got immediately quite a big gap, 5 to 10 seconds I believe," continued Mollema. "In the last 500 meters, Tim Wellens attacked really fast, and I had to leave a gap of 5 tot 10 meters which I couldn't close anymore. I didn't lose any more meters on him, but yeah, he was the strongest today.
With two stages remaining, Wellens holds a four-second lead over Mollema, and nine seconds over Roche, but the parcours of the final two days may make the tiny margin in the general classification unsurmountable for Mollema.
"I would have preferred to win, obviously, but I am happy with my performance today. It's nice to end the season in this shape. There are still two more stages to come so who knows what can happen? The stages to come don't look very hard but you never know how the race will unfold. Tomorrow there are still some climbs in the final, at 30-40km to go and it is a long stage of 210km, so that will be probably the hardest of the two stages to come. Tuesday should be a little more easy, but who knows what this race will still bring?" ended