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by Shane Stokes
March 16, 2015
Underlining his return to form plus his superb sprinting speed on flat roads, Andrea Guardini sped to his fourth stage win in this year’s Tour de Langkawi on Sunday.
The Italian sprinter blasted in ahead of Caleb Ewan (Orica GreenEdge), Michael Kolar (Tinkoff-Saxo) plus the rest of the peloton at the end of the fast, flat 96.1 kilometre race to Kuala Lumpur’s city centre, proving himself best on the criterium-like finishing circuit.
Netting four stage wins out of the total of eight gave him a superb 50 percent strike rate this year and increased his Langkawi record to 18 stages. It also further boosted his confidence in advance of returning to Europe.
“It was a fantastic race for us today as we took the second place in the general classification with my team-mate Agnoli, then after we took the win for me,” he said. “It is the best way to finish this LTDL 2015.”
Yousef Reguigui was also very happy at the finish, sealing the best result of his life in winning the overall classification.
“This is the first win for me in a professional race. When I came the first time in Langkawi, more than one week ago, I don’t support [handle] the weather as it was very hot,” he said. “I came from Europe where it is four degrees, five degrees, and to go to 40 degrees it is difficult to stay all the day on the bike.
“I did two days training and I started the first stage of the Tour de Langkawi. Every day I got better. Yesterday I made the decision with Natnael Berhane to go for the yellow jersey. He was a climber but he was tired. I made the decision, I won the stage, and I took the yellow jersey.”
Valerio Agnoli had started the stage fifth overall, twelve seconds behind MTN-Qhubeka’s Reguigui, who took over the lead in the general classification on Saturday when he won the mountain stage to Fraser’s Hill.
However he was just two seconds off the riders in second, third and fourth, and Astana knew that the runner-up slot was up for grabs.
Guardini played an important part in helping Agnoli win the first intermediate sprint at Serendah.
“I tried to lead out him in the first sprint. He said to me, ‘go go go,’ at the one kilometre to go, but it is too early. I made the best for him as he worked good before for me. It was really good that he took the three second bonus.
“After, I knew really well this final and I did the sprint alone. I took the powerful train today, Southeast, and I made my sprint really well from 200 metres.”
Ewen earlier won stages three and six. Guardini was dropped on the climbs during the first of those, while he dropped his chain just before the sprint on stage six.
The final stage saw the two go head to head again and, as he had done on stages one, two and four, Guardini was quickest again.
“Today we got a little bit lost in the end but that happens,” said Ewan, speaking about the leadout. However he said that he was nevertheless pleased with his haul from the race.
“Obviously we came in here with the plan to win one stage. So to come away with two and the points jersey obviously exceeded expectations,” he stated.
“So I was really happy with how the race went, and I was really happy with how the team worked together so that was the main thing.”
Asked what he and the team had learned from the race, he said that the takeout lesson was how to manage the leadout train.
“I had Leigh Howard and Adam Blythe doing the leadouts. The main thing was we worked together well and I think we did, we nailed the leadout a few times,” he said.
“I am pretty happy with how far the leadout has come in only a few days and I am pretty excited to see how well we can work together in the next few races.”
As was the case on the other seven days, the 96.1 kilometre stage began with strong humid heat. The start town of Kuala Kubu Bharu had a festive atmosphere, but the GC riders and the sprinters remained fully focussed on the battle ahead.
Two riders clipped away after five kilometres of racing, with Samir Jabrayilov (Synergy Baku Cycling Project) and Rafaa Chtioui (Skydive Dubai) combining before the latter pushed ahead alone. However the peloton was back together by kilometre 11 and was still intact by the first intermediate sprint at Serendah (km. 20.3). There Agnoli beat Jesper Hansen and Michael Kolar (both Tinkoff Saxo), with his GC rival Sebastian Henao finishing out of the bonus seconds in fourth.
Six riders attacked soon afterwards, namely Philip Deignan (Sky), Rodolfo Torres Agudelo (Colombia), Zhang Zheng (Hengxiang), Arin Iswana (Pegasus), Chtioui and Loh Sea Keong (Malaysia national team). Liam Bertazzo (Southeast) then got across but despite that reinforcement, the move was hauled back by kilometre 29.
A more successful effort formed then, with the ever-active Chtioui there along with Bruno Pires (Tinkoff-Saxo), Daniel Martinez (Colombia), Jonathan Clarke (UnitedHealthcare) and Harrif Salleh (Terengganu).
The latter dropped back but the other four pushed onwards and had a half minute lead at kilometre 33. Just under seven kilometres later Clarke beat Chtioui, Duque and Clarke to the top of the category three Selayang ascent.
The break then raced onwards and crossed the finish line for the first time at kilometre 69.7. The time gap there was still over a minute but with six laps – 33 kilometres – remaining, the four leaders knew that the bunch still had plenty of time to haul them back.
They pushed on regardless, with Chtioui taking the second intermediate sprint (km 69.7) and also the third (km 82.9). The time gap continued to fall and the break was finally reeled in inside the final three kilometres.
Guardini was determined to take another stage win and put himself into the right position before the sprint opened up. Ewen did what he could to try to get around him but didn’t have the oomph this time.
“It is fantastic. I win a lot, this is my fifth win this year,” said Guardini. “It is incredible because I am only in the start of the season and I can make the best for me and my team.”
American rider Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) was also in a celebratory mood at the finish, as was Tomohiro Hayakawa (Aisan). The former took the mountains jersey while the latter was the best Asian rider overall.
“We came to race aggressively,” said Reijnen. “I was hoping for a stage win but the KOM jersey is definitely a nice consolation and being able to wear it from day one onwards was nice. It was a big team effort, the guys took really good care of me.
“I was hoping we could upset the sprinters on a few stages but it wasn’t to be. But I am happy with the way I raced and the form I have going back to Europe now.”
As for Hayakawa, he didn’t speak English but said through an interpreter that he hoped the result would help advance his career.
Reguigui can certainly expect that to happen, confirming to CyclingTips that he would love to be part of MTN-Qhubeka’s team for the Tour de France. However he accepted that there are still several months until team selection is made and that it is too soon to know if he will get the nod.
Right now, he is celebrating the biggest win of his career with his team-mates, continuing the team’s upwards trend.
Feature – how Andrea Guardini is getting his mojo back
Reijnen: Langkawi mountains classification gives me and the team more confidence