Guardini again gets edge on Ewan in Tour de Langkawi

by Shane Stokes

Nabbing what is his sixteenth career stage win in the race, Andrea Guardini underlined his status as the fastest finisher in the Tour de Langkawi when he hit the line first in Sungai Petani.

The Italian had come off Caleb Ewan’s wheel on Sunday’s first stage to nab victory plus the yellow jersey; this time around, Ewan was glued to his wheel to try to force Guardini to lead it out. However despite the Italian doing just that, the young Australian was unable to get by him and had to once again accept the runner-up slot.

“Today we [the Astana team] had to catch the breakaway but it is normal. The yellow jersey, the team leader, has to take the responsibility to catch the breakaway and to win the stage of today,” he said. “It was another stage for me. I am in a good shape.

“It was [would have been] stupid not to work from the start to the finish. There was a good breakaway, six riders in the front, but we stayed really close to them to not make too much difficult for taking it [back]. Then at 20 kilometres to go some guys with Orica and the others came in front to catch the final two minutes.

“The other teams were really fresher than us to make a sprint and at ten kilometres to go the road was a bit slippery with rain. It was a bit more difficult. But I stayed in the front with Agnoli and after I took the best train today, Southeast, in the last kilometre. I sprinted really good.”

Ewan appeared frustrated at the end of the stage and didn’t initially want to give reactions to media. He rode to the podium area and sat in a small section provided for the riders; Guardini joined him there about five minutes later and the two spoke for some time.

The dealing appeared respectful, friendly. Ewan congratulated him on his win but is also determined to try to land his own success in the race.

“I tried to come off him this time but he was still too quick in the end,” he said after the podium presentation. “I am going to have to try to think of something else to beat him as he is going quite well at the moment.”

Guardini has done a lot more recent competition while Ewan raced at the start of the year in Australia but hasn’t done much of late. He accepts that might be a factor in how they are each going at this point of the race.

“I have had quite a while off racing. I think it might take me a few days to get back into it,” he said. “I still feel like in my sprint I am not going as good as I could be. Hopefully in a few days it comes back to me and I can get quicker.”

The 185 kilometre stage began with a number of attacks and a quartet of riders briefly got clear before being reeled in. Meiyin Wang (Hengxiang) took the intermediate sprint at Pokok Sena (km 14.4), with Wen Long Zhang (Giant-Champion), Robin Manullang (Pegasus) and Chris Sutton (Sky) taking the other three places.

After their recapture Zhikang Gao (Hengxiang) clipped away but he was reeled in. Six riders then made their own move before the second intermediate sprint, with the group comprising the brothers Adiq and Afiq Husaini Othman, Jianpeng Liu (Hengxiang), Elchin Asadov (Synergy Baku), Patria Rastra (Pegasus) and Sea Keong Loh (Malaysia).

Adiq Othman was quickest at that second intermediate sprint of Kuala Nerang (km 28.6), beating Asadov, Rastra and Liu to the line. The time bonus gained moved Adiq Othman into the virtual lead of the Asian classification.

The group pushed out to two minutes clear at kilometre 30 and while the driving of the Astana team brought this down to one and a half minutes, it went out again to two minutes by kilometre 50. It was still around that figure by sprint three at Tandop Besar, where Rastra was quickest ahead of Liu, Adiq Othman and Asadov.

Othman then opted to wait for the peloton, while the other five pushed onwards and increased their lead slightly to two minutes 20 seconds at kilometre 126.

The day’s first of two category four climbs came at Jeniang (km 132). Rastra picked up maximum points there ahead of Afiq Othman and Liu.

The final climb of Bukit Selambau was just over 30 kilometres from the end and there Asadov hit the prime line ahead of Rastra and Liu.

With 23 kilometres remaining, Asadov attacked, going clear with Sea Keong Loh and opening a two minute 20 seconds lead over the bunch.

The peloton was being led by Bretagne-Séché, Orica and Astana. While the two leaders still had two minutes 25 seconds with 17 kilometres left, everything was back together with ten kilometres to go.

From there the sprinters’ teams continue to ride until the line. Ewan was determined to try to take his first win in the race and sat behind Guardini, reversing the order from the first stage, but he was unable to get past the Italian at the line and once again had to accept the runner-up slot.

Guardini has the chance to pick up his seventeenth win in the event on Tuesday. It will also be the 200th-ever stage in the race’s history, giving him two numbers to aim for. However, despite his dominance thus far, he said that he isn’t presuming anything.

He is wary about the second and first category ascents in the first half of the 170 kilometre stage from Gerik to Tanah Merah. Guardini knows that Ewan is a solid climber and therefore accepts that he might have an edge on that tougher terrain.

“Maybe tomorrow it will be his stage because there are two long climbs in the start and we will see what happens. For sure Orica tomorrow will want to make a good start to drop the sprinters, me and maybe Mareczko. We will see.”

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