Mount Fuji, Japan - Chris Butler rode to his best performance of the season for the Champion System Pro Cycling Team Friday at the Tour of Japan by finishing third in a short, but steep, uphill race at the foot of Mount Fuji.
The Greenville, S.C., resident's performance in the 11.4-kilometer stage improved him from 14th to fifth overall with only Saturday's 146.4 km road race and a 112 km circuit race Sunday in Tokyo remain in the six-stage race.
"I was confident I could do a good result," Butler said. "Halfway up, on the steepest part, I attacked. But that was later countered by the two Team Nippo guys (Fortunato Baliani and Julian David Arredeondo)."
Aboard his Fuji Altarmira, Butler climbed the more than three dozen switchbacks on the course that averaged 10 percent, with some sections steeper than 22 percent. By the finish, he had conceded only 58 seconds to stage winner and overall race leader Baliani and and 39 seconds to Arredeondo, who was second on the day and stands second overall.
Butler said a couple things motivated him to secure his best result in three years as a pro.
"Overall, I feel like I should be third on the general classification because I lost some time on Stage 3," he said. "I'm also bummed to be missing the U.S. national championships for this race, so I wanted to make it worthwhile. Plus this is a big race for our sponsors."
Time gaps on the stage that was originally billed as an individual time trial were massive. Champion System's Cameron Wurf finished 21st, but lost more than five minutes to slide from fifth overall to seventh. More than half the field finished at least six-and-a-half minutes slower than the stage winner.
Butler, whose previous best result this year was eighth on the Genting Highlands climb at the Tour de Langkawi, said he hopes to keep moving up in the race's final days.
"Saturday is a super technical, hilly circuit race so maybe I can go for a big gamble," he said.
Stage 4 (11.4 kilometers):
1. Fortunato Baliani (Team Nippo), 40:23.
2. Julian David Arredeondo (Team Nippo), at :19.
3. Chris Butler (Champion System Pro Cycling), at :58.
Champion System riders:
21. Cameron Wurf, at 5:05.
22. Adiq Othman, same time.
25. Will Clarke, 5:49.
26. Pengda Jiao, at 5:51.
36. Gang Xu, at 6:56.
Overall Standings After Stage 4:
1. Baliani (Team Nippo), 8:31:48.
2. Arredeondo (Team Nippo), at :18.
3. Jaroslaw Dabrowski (Amore & Vita), at 3:21.
Champion System riders:
5. Butler, at 6:12.
7. Wurf, at 6:57.
21. Othman, at 13:30
22. Clarke, 14:04.
29. Jiao, at 15:07.
30. Xu, at 16:12.