Izu, Japan - Champion System Pro Cycling Team's Ryota Nishizono notched the team's best finish on Saturday's penultimate stage of the Tour of Japan to hold onto sixth place overall.
"We are happy to have such a motivated and dedicated rider," Champion System Assistant Director Franky Van Haesebroucke said. "He's only at the start of his career and it is exciting that he is letting us help him grow as a rider."
Six riders got away early on the 146.4-km 12-lap circuit course around Izu, but were brought back with 20 km remaining. By the final lap, the hilly course had taken its toll on the peloton, which had been reduced to a mere 20 riders entering the final kilometer. Nathan Earle (Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers) won on the uphill finish while Nishizona - who finished ninth on Stage 3 - was fifth in the same time. Fortunato Balini (Team Nippo-De Rosa) remained the overall leader while Nishizono is 3:46 behind.
Heading into the day, Van Haesebroucke said the team was concentrated on protecting Nishizono's place in the top 10.
"We have been focusing on the overall classification for Ryota," Van Haesebroucke said. "Going into today's stage, I asked Ryota to stay calm and to stick with teams that still have a full squad in the race."
American Craig Lewis, who is racing for the first time since breaking his elbow in a crash at Brabantse Pijl in early April, played a vital role in protecting Nishizono throughout the stage.
"Lewis stayed with Ryota and used his experience to help position him," Van Haesebroucke said. "It shows that Lewis's form is coming back after the broken elbow."
Sunday's final stage is a 112.7-km circuit course around Tokyo's Oi Wharf. Nishizono said he is driven to keep moving up the overall standings at his home country race.
"I'm hoping to come into the top five, but it will be difficult as it's a flat stage," Nishizono said. "I gained a few seconds on the riders in front of me, so you never know."