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by Shane Stokes
March 11, 2015
Making the most of his team’s firepower to dispatch his chief rival Andrea Guardini, the rider who had beaten him on the first two days of the Tour de Langkawi, Caleb Ewan powered to victory at the end of stage three of the race on Tuesday.
The first year pro clocked up his third UCI victory of the year when he blasted in ahead of Youcef Reguigui (MTN-Qhubeka), Leonardo Duque (Colombia) plus the rest of a reduced peloton. Stages one and two winner Andrea Guardini and many others had been burned off by Orica GreenEdge’s pace on the day’s early climbs, with the team then continuing to work to haul in a break before the finish.
“After two seconds [second places], it is a bit of a relief to win today,” said Ewan at the finish. “The team worked so well and the least I could do was to deliver today because of how they have been riding in the past few days.”
He said that targeting Guardini was a deliberate tactic. “I saw him at the start, up the first climb, and he really looked to be suffering. So that is when we made the plan that if we really put the hammer down on the second climb that we might drop the pure sprinters,” he said.
“That is what we did and we had a select group in the end. Luckily there were four of us so we had enough guys still to bring back the break and drop the rest of the sprinters.”
Ewan also took over the yellow jersey from Guardini, who finished over 24 minutes back. He holds a 13 second lead over Natnael Berhane (MTN – Qhubeka) heading into stage four.
What was the 200th-ever stage of the Tour de Langkawi began at noon in the town of Gerik, and saw the riders face two tough climbs in the opening hour and a half of racing. The 170 kilometre stage was run off in the usual high temperatures and saw Bretagne-Séché Environment GC leader unable to take the start due to a knee problem after a crash in the finale of stage two.
Five riders clipped away 18 kilometres after the start, with Natnael Berhane (MTN-Qhubeka), Frederic Brun (Bretagne-Séché Environment), Francisco Mancebo, Soufiane Haddi (both Skydive Dubai) and Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) using the uphill roads after the start to get a gap.
Reijnen was chasing mountain points to extend his lead in the King of the Mountains classification and was successful atop the first climb, the category 2 ascent of Grik (km. 27.2), beating Berhane, Haddi, Brun and Mancebo to the summit.
Nine kilometres later Berhane was quickest in the intermediate sprint at Banding, clocking up important bonus seconds for the general classification ahead of Mancebo. The peloton was five minutes back at that point.
They raced on to the day’s second climb, the category one Titiwangsa (km.67.4) and at the summit Reijnen was again quickest. He picked up top points in front of Mancebo and Berhane, thus taking a huge step towards winning the mountains competition outright.
Behind, Ewan’s Orica GreenEdge team was hoofing up the climb, intending to put stage one and two winner Andrea Guardini into trouble in order to boost the Australian’s odds of a stage win. He had finished runner-up on stages one and two and with Guardini, Anuar Manan (Terengganu Cycling Team) and other sprinters floundering, his chances were rising quickly.
He also know that if he won the stage and Guardini was gapped, that he would take over the yellow jersey of race leader.
The pressure behind ensured that the break’s gap was down to three minutes 20 seconds at the top of the climb. Guardini’s group was a further two minutes 40 seconds back, so Orica’s plan was working well.
The team needed to keep the pressure on to ensure that he didn’t return, and at kilometre 80 the break was still just over three minutes ahead, being unable to rebuild its buffer.
Mancebo had a flat tyre and was forced to change his wheel. The others eased back to let him rejoin, then knuckled down again.
The bunch was three minutes 15 seconds back at kilometre 100 but, crucially for Ewan, Guardini’s group was a sliver under eight minutes behind and looking extremely likely to rejoin.
Berhane knew he had a strong opportunity to gain seconds on the other GC riders and picked up another bonus when he beat Mancebo, Brun and Reijnen at the intermediate sprint Batu Melintang (km. 106.4). He was quickest once again at the final intermediate sprint in Jeli (km. 123), with Mancebo, Brun and Reijnen again second, third and fourth.
The time gap there was down to two minutes and with 47 kilometres left, the break looked fated to be hauled back.
So it proved, with that move coming to an end five kilometres from the line. Tinkoff-Saxo’s Pavel Brutt was feeling good and made his own bid for glory, but with two kilometres left he was overtaken.
Ewan knew the scenario was perfect for him and launched his sprint perfectly, racing in ahead of Youcef Reguigui (MTN-Qhubeka) and Leonardo Duque (Colombia) plus the other 40 riders in the group.
That final effort both secured him the stage and also put him in the yellow jersey of race leader.
Meanwhile Reijnen’s efforts solidified his grip on the mountains jersey. Although he felt after the stage that he had enough points to make sure of his overall victory, calculations later on showed this not to be the case. Still, he has a commanding lead and looks likely to take the red jersey all the way to Kuala Lumpur on Sunday.
His UnitedHealthcare team-mate Lucas Euser also spoke after the finish, speaking about the team’s tactics on the stage and also its plan for later in the week.