Ewan retains yellow with a flourish prior to crucial mountain stage
Race leader Caleb Ewan defended his yellow jersey in style on stage six at the end of the Tour de Langkawi, sprinting home first at the end of the 96.6 kilometre kilometre race to Karak.
The Orica GreenEdge rider beat Jakob Mareczko (Southeast) and Chris Sutton (Sky) to the line, with Juan Molano Benavides (Colombia) just one place off the podium in fourth.
Andrea Guardini, who earlier beat Ewan to win three flat stages, had a mechanical mishap inside the final kilometre and had to be content with fifth place.
Whether or not Ewan was aware of this, he sounded very happy with how his own sprint went and believed he and his team have stepped up a level.
“We made the plan at the start of the day to put pressure on Astana to chase and we only committed one guy in the end,” he said, detailing how the stage unfolded. “Guardini is getting quite confident with his sprints, so that worked well for us because he was out of guys towards the end and we still had five guys left.
“We were really strong in the last five kilometres. We tried things a little different. We stayed more out of the bunch so it was a lot easier for me to see him.
“The guys were just so strong in that last five kilometres. They did it perfectly, which is really good because we made a few mistakes in the last few stages but we really nailed it today. So it feels really good to get the win.”
Mareczko was closest to Ewan. The Australian rider said that he was cautious of the runner-up before the sprint, based on past experience.
“About this time last year when we were both amateurs in Italy, we did a really flat race that came down to a bunch kick and he actually beat me in the sprint.
“So I knew coming into this Tour that he is really fast and if he gets a good run, he can beat me. I think he is just as quick.”
Guardini has the all-time record of 17 stage wins in the race and wanted to add an 18th. That didn’t work out and after he crossed the finish line, he took ice from the team’s drinks cooler and started putting it on his left knee.
There was no visible sign of a crash and so CyclingTips sought clarification as to what the issue was.
“I did not crash, but at 250 metres my chain went down from the 53,” he said. “I put it back on and after I sprinted I was fourth. It sometimes happens. There were some [pot]holes in the last curve.”
Asked if his sore knee happened when the chain dropped, he confirmed it did. “Yes, for sure,” he said. “I stayed starting my sprint and the chain went down.”
He didn’t appear too worried about the knee strain and is expected to continue on Saturday.
The 96.6 kilometre stage was the sixth of the race and ran from Maran to Karak. With Friday a holy day in Malaysia, the start was later than on other stages and it was the shortest of the race.
Right after the start a quartet of aggressors clipped away. They were Simone Andreetta (Bardiani CSF), Enver Asanov (Synergy Baku), Kwon Soon Yeong (KSPO) and Sun Xiaolong (Giant-Champion System) and had already a minute’s lead over a languid peloton after two kilometres.
Guardini’s Astana team wanted to set him up for another stage win and moved to the front, reducing the lead to one and a half minutes by kilometre 13.
Andreetta took the first intermediate sprint at Chenor (km 25.5), beating Sun, Asanov and Kwon. The gap remained relatively constant, reading one and a half minutes there and also at kilometre 40.
Andreetta was quickest again at the next sprint at kilometre 44, that of Temerloh, getting the better of Kwon, Asanov and Sun, and the same finishing order was seen at the third sprint of Mentakab at kilometre 53.8.
The Astana team was keeping a tight grip on things and maintained a gap of one and a half minutes at kilometre 60. Soon afterwards Ewan’s Orica GreenEdge team decided to give some assistance to the chase, sending one rider up, and with 20 kilometres remaining they had reduced the break’s advantage to one minute.
That tumbled quickly and was down to just 20 seconds with ten kilometres left. Andreetta had earlier shown his strength with those three sprint wins and still had more to give, jumping clear with eight kilometres to go. He was however reeled in again by the break, with the quartet then being itself gobbled up soon afterwards.
Ewan’s team played things perfectly and gave him the platform to notch up his second stage win of the race. This moved him further ahead in the points classification and also underlined his grip on yellow.
He knows the latter could change on tomorrow’s uphill finish at Fraser’s Hill, but was nevertheless very happy with how things turned out.
“I think today I came to the finish with really good legs,” he smiled. “Like I said, I got the prefect leadout as well. I felt really good in the sprint.”
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