Reguigui wins atop Fraser Hill, replaces Ewan at top of Tour de Langkawi classification
Scooping the biggest success thus far of his career, Algerian rider Youcef Reguigui won a ten man sprint to the line atop Frazer’s Hill and springboarded into the yellow jersey of race leader of the Tour de Langkawi.
The MTN Qhubeka rider beat Sebastian Henao (Sky), Valerio Agnoli (Astana) and the others, with the result also handing him the race lead.
He duly replaced Australian Caleb Ewan at the top of the general classification. Ewan (Orica GreenEdge) had started the day 20 seconds ahead of Reguigui but lost all hope of defending his lead when he ran into trouble on the climbs.
He eventually finished 14 minutes 28 seconds back, netting 72nd.
Reguigui is a past winner of a stage in the 2014 Tour of Azerbaijan. He showed strong former earlier in the Tour de Langkawi race when he placed second and fourth on stages, but admitted he was surprised how things worked out on Fraser’s Hill.
The original expectation was that he would work for his team-mates, but things went a different direction.
“I say thanks to my team because today two guys from MTN stopped so there was a lot of stress about the team. Daniel [Teklehaimanot] and [Merhawi] Kudus had stomach problems, so it was difficult to make a decision for winning the stage or for winning the jersey.
“I was happy because I had good legs today and the last 25 kilometres I was in the front with Jacques [Jacques Jense Van Rensburg] and Natnael Berhane. Normally I would work for Natnael, but before five kilometres [to go] he said to me that he didn’t have the legs. So I made the decision to stay in the front, and when I saw one kilometres I made a plan for the sprint.”
He noted that it was his first victory of the season and also that he recently celebrated the birth of his daughter Messa. He dedicated his win to the latter.
The result puts him ten seconds clear of Henao and the same margin ahead of Pierre-Luc Perichon (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) and Francisco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai). With Sunday’s final stage expected to end in a big sprint, he looks like the likely winner of the overall classification.
“I hope that the team will control the race tomorrow, as tomorrow is not a long stage. I think all the sprinter guys will fight for the stage.
“I think I won’t risk for the sprint, I will try to keep the jersey.”
The seventh stage was originally due to finish atop the fearsome Genting Hill climb but that was dropped from the race on the eve of the event, apparently due to mudlslides.
In its place the organisers had rejigged things to finish on the first category Fraser’s Hill; another tough ascent, but nowhere near as difficult.
The new format would see the riders begin in Shah Alarm, a stone’s throw from the teams’ hotel and next to the stunning Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah mosque, the second-biggest in Southeast Asia.
Following the drop of the flag, a number of attacks were fired off, amongst them a two-man move by Vladimir Gusev (Skydive Dubai) and Othman Mohammed Afiq Huznie (National Sports Council Malaysia). They were hauled back soon afterwards, but at kilometre 14 a more successful move formed when Francesco Chicchi, Liam Bertazzo (Southeast), Sung Baek Park (KSPO) and Zulkifle Nik M. Azwan went up the road.
Azwan was quickest at the day’s first climb, the category four Puncak Alam (24.8). By the time Chicchi beat Park, Azwan and Bertazzo at the day’s first intermediate sprint (Puncak Alam, km. 24.8), their gap was already over four minutes, and this increased to seven minutes 40 seconds at kilometre 30.
Bertazzo picked up top points at the intermediate sprint at Sg Buloh (km 41.1), after which the break continued onwards to hold a seven minute 35 second gap at kilometre 50.
Eleven kilometres later Azwan won sprint three into Gombak (km 61.1), and also took the second KOM climb at Genting Sempah (km. 86).
Behind Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo and Skydive Dubai were riding hard. Colombia also came up to lend a hand and under the pressure exerted, the breakaway’s advantage was down to two minutes 25 seconds 120 kilometres in.
The gap continued to fall and so Bertazzo decided to try to springboard clear. At kilometre 127 he was 13 seconds ahead of the break and one minute 35 seconds up on the bunch; his former breakaway companions went back to the bunch, but he pushed things out to two minutes 55 seconds by kilometre 140.
The Italian had two big obstacles, though. The first was the collective strength of the bunch, while the second were the long foot hills of Fraser’s Hill. These slopes bit into his legs and resolve and saw him caught inside the final ten kilometres.
Behind race leader Caleb Ewan and the triple stage winner from this year’s edition, Andrea Guardini (Astana) were dropped, putting paid to Ewan’s chances of defending the yellow jersey.
The Sky team were driving the pace on Fraser’s Hill, helping whittle the front group down to ten riders by the line. Youcef Reguigui was quickest in the dash to the finish, beating Sebastian Henao (Sky), Valerio Agnoli (Astana) and seven others in that twisting, turning gallop.
He and his team were elated with the overall lead and will do what they can to seal it Sunday.
“I will try to keep the jersey,” he confirmed. “I think tomorrow Astana and GreenEdge will control the race as they have the best sprinters in the peloton.”
His success was thanks in part to the changing of the Genting Highlands climb for Fraser’s Hill. He admitted that the latter suited him far better, but also made clear that the win was far from a given.
“It is not an easy climb. If you do 180 kilometres and you climb like this, for sure it is not easy…for everyone, not just for me,” he said.
“But if you have the legs, you have to go. I am a sprinter but I can climb also, because I am 67 kilogrammes.”
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