Three wins out of four attempts: after the general classification battles of the past two days, the riders in the Tour de Langkawi returned to flatter terrain, and there Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini –Neri Sottoli) clocked up his hat-trick of sprint victories in the race.
The 21 year old Italian led out the gallop and had enough strength to hold off points jersey rival Anuar Manan (Terengganu ProAsia Cycling) and 2010 stage winner Takashi Miyuazawa (Farnese Vini – Neri Sottoli) to the line in Purajaya.
Manan had the consolation of taking the blue points jersey thanks to the bonus sprint he won at Ulu Klang sprint, 26.3 kilometres after the start in Rawang. His goals for this year’s event are to repeat the victory in that classification plus the stage win he took in the 2010 edition, and wearing the jersey tomorrow should motivate him.
One who is already psyched by a jersey is overall leader Libardo Nino Corredor (Le Tua). He kept close tabs on his rivals today and rolled across the line in 36th place, preserving the two seconds lead he held over Jonnatha Monsalve before the stage.
“This was been a very fast stage with many attempts at breakaways,” he said, referring in particular to a threatening move containing the fifth-placed rider Rahim Emami (Azad University). “The race started very fast from the gun and there was a breakaway for the second hotspot sprint. Fortunately the Androni team worked a lot to close the gap to the breakaway riders and my team-mates told me about the course at the end. That is how I kept the yellow jersey today.”
Top rival Monsalve explained that the team decided to ride in order to prevent another rider jumping above him in the general classification. He can take over the race lead if he can pick up some bonus seconds, but to do that he needs to finish ahead of some of the sprint specialists who are scrapping it out for the points jersey. “There are four more stages remaining. We see that the sprinters are very focussed on scoring points, so it is going to be hard,” he stated. “But we will see how it goes tomorrow.”
The pattern of racing has become fascinating due to these twin battles; on the one hand, the sprinters are focussed completely on the blue jersey, while the GC contenders are fixated on the yellow. Guardini is one of the prime contenders for the former and with his succession of stage wins, his confidence is good enough that he didn’t sound too concerned that Manan took over that blue jersey today.
However he needs to be careful; a win in the intermediate sprints confers a two point gain over the second-placed rider, while for the finishes, the difference is just one point. Guardini has tended to be quicker than Manan at the end of the stages, but the Malaysian rider has had the edge in the earlier sprints. If today’s pattern continues, Manan will be the winner of the jersey next Tuesday rather than him.
“It is a great achievement to get three stage wins out of four so far,” the Italian said, reacting to the victory he picked up today. “There is a big battle for the hot spot sprints and the classification for points is very tight. Anuar Manan is extremely determined to win this classification. There is only one point between us, but I am fine with it for now.”
Manan promised to keep the pressure on, and does appear very motivated. “Today I didn’t get the win, but I got the blue [jersey]. I would like to thank my team-mates who worked hard today. I will try to keep the blue jersey until the end. I will try to win a stage, but today I didn’t get to do that…I got second and am a little bit unhappy, but I will try tomorrow.”
How it unfolded:
After several early attacks, the riders hit the first of the day’s two category four climbs. On this climb of Bukit Kanching (km 7.6), Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano) beat Mirsamad Pourseyedi (Azad University) and Gang Xu (Max Success Sports) to the top, trying to improve on his fifth overall in the mountains classification. The peloton then came back together before the Ulu Klang sprint (km 26.3), where the sprinters fought it out for the points jersey. Malaysian favourite Anuar Manan (Terengganu ProAsia Cycling) beat Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) here, with 2010 race leader Tobias Erler (Tabriz Petrochemical Team) netting third. The two points gained by Manan moved him into the virtual lead of that classification; they had started the stage on the same points, with Guardini holding the blue jersey on countback.
After 37 kilometres, Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked and briefly led the race, but things came back together quickly under the fast pace being set. A total of 48 kilometres was covered in the first hour of racing.
Ten kilometres later, 15 riders went clear and from this group, Boris Shpilevsky (Tabriz Petrochemical Team) beat Suhardi Hassan (Malaysian National Team) and Hossein Askari (Tabriz Petrochemical Team) to the intermediate sprint at Kajang (km 54.6).