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by Shane Stokes
March 8, 2015
They are the two fastest sprinters on paper, and so it proved on stage one of the Tour de Langkawi: Italian speedster Andrea Guardini and young Australian talent Caleb Ewan went head to head in the big bunch gallop that decided the stage, with Guardini emerging best in this round one.
The duo finished first and second at the finish line in Pantai Cenang, hitting the line ahead of Malaysian rider Anuar Manan (Terengganu Cycling Team), Andrea Dal Col (Southeast), Romain Feillu (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) and the rest of the peloton.
“I am really happy to win the first stage,” said Guardini, who also took a stage win in the Tour of Oman in February. “We don’t make the mistake of last year – in that first stage the breakaway arrived [ahead of the bunch – ed.]. We wanted to take the leader’s jersey. Our team with Orica GreenEdge started to catch the breakaway.
“We worked really good and afterwards I followed the train of Orica GreenEdge and Caleb Ewan’s wheel. I sprinted from 200 metres. I am in good shape and I am really happy to win this first stage.”
Guardini said before the race that he likes the heat and confirmed that he didn’t find the baking temperatures a problem during the stage. He knows this is part of the reasons for his win, but also the training he did during the winter and the fine shape he has been in since the start of the year.
With the 99.2 kilometre stage being mainly flat, a big sprint was the most likely outcome. However that didn’t stop several riders trying to spoil the party, hoping that last year’s successful move by a break would be repeated.
Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare), Simone Andreetta (Bardiani CSF), Mohammed Adiq Husainie Othman (Terengganu Cycling Team), Guangtong Ma (Hengxiang Cycling Team) and Meher Hasnaoui (Skyvid Dubai) slipped clear very early on, and were joined soon afterwards by Liam Bertazzon (Southeast Cycling Team).
The sextet worked hard to try to build a race-winning advantage but after the peloton’s miscalculation last year, the same wouldn’t happen twice. They had one minute 40 seconds at kilometre 13, and built that up to two minutes 10 seconds by the Langkawi Highway King of the Mountains prime at kilometre 16.7, where Reijnen beat Husainie Othman to take top points.
After the first intermediate sprint at Kuah (km 19, won by Bertazzo), the Bukit Beringin KOM climb (km 20.8, won again by Reijnen) and sprint two at Air Hangat (km 25.5, taken by Bertazzo), the gap had dropped to one minute 40 seconds.
It oscillated somewhat but was again one minute 40 seconds when Bertazzo took sprint three at Teluk Ewa, 49.6 kilometres in. Just over ten kilometres later Reijnen made sure he would be wearing the mountains jersey at the end of the stage when he took the third and final KOM prime at Pantai Kok.
After that point the peloton put the hammer down and whittled the gap to one minute by kilometre 73. Bertazzo was concerned and pushed ahead, but the others hauled him back. Hasnaoui then attacked and had a 12 second lead over the others with 20 kilometres remaining.
Reijnen saw the opportunity and bridged across, with the duo extending their lead to one minute 40 seconds over the peloton with 15 kilometres left.
They believed they had a fighting chance but the gap was just 20 seconds with five kilometres remaining. Reijnen was defiant and jumped clear alone, but his bid for stage glory was brought to an end with two kilometres left.
“There are only six man teams here so it is unpredictable racing. It makes for aggressive racing,” he reflected afterwards. “When the stage starts I just went for the KOM jersey but I didn’t think we had a very good chance for the stage. Towards the end I saw the opportunity to go. In this race, if you have the opportunity you take it.
“Astana and GreenEdge wanted the sprint so it was always going to be touch and go, but I gave it a good try and I will try again.”
Guardini and Ewan were fully intent on hitting the line first and played out the first of several likely duels on this year’s race. Round one went to the Italian, who hit the line ahead, arms aloft, and took the first yellow jersey.
“Caleb is a strong rider and for sure he has a really good team for leadouts in the sprint,” he said, when asked to evaluate his rival. “We haven’t the same powerful team for the final but we have good riders to stay in front and catch the breakaway.
“One sprint is always different to the other, but we try to work well and take the best wheel day by day. Today the train was of Caleb, maybe tomorrow another train. We will see.”
He said he was also wary of Manan, who Guardini feels has clearly improved since the 2014 edition. “For sure I think he has improved his shape from last year. I think he is more skinny and more powerful,” he said. “He came in the top three today and for sure I think he can do very good sprints and compete for the victory.
“We will see…there are a lot of stages for us, the sprinters. We will try to fight every day for the win.”
He will start Monday’s second stage four seconds clear of Ewan and five seconds up on Ma, who sits third overall and leads the Asian rider classification.