Sunday, 30 January 2011

Tour de Langkawi stage 8

After taking a frustrated second on yesterday’s stage to Tampin, German sprinter Robert Forster went one better to blaze home first into Jasin on the eighth leg of the Tour de Langkawi. The United Healthcare rider narrowly edged out friend and competitor AndrĂ© Schulze (CCC Polstat Polkowice) at the end of the longest stage of the race, while determined sprinting earlier on saw Jonnatha Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli) move ahead of Libardo Nino Corredor (Le Tua) in the general classification.

Venezuelan competitor Monsalve had started the rain-lashed stage two seconds behind his Colombian rival, but moved level on time when he was runner-up in the first intermediate sprint at Bahau (km 18.7). He then moved ahead when he placed second in the next sprint, that of Gemencheh (km 122.7). Nino Corredor did what he could but was only fourth in the latter.

“I must thank my team for the good work that has been done since the beginning of the stage,” said a very satisfied Monsalve afterwards. “At the first hotspot sprint I managed to finish second and got a two second bonus that made me equal on time with Libardo. Then the team worked again to take me to the second hotspot sprint and since I was second again there, I got another second and now I’m the leader of Le Tour de Langkawi.”

Monsalve has the stronger team and with experienced manager Gianni Savio at the helm and looking to win the race once again, he is in a very good position. However he’s taking nothing for granted at this point in time, realising that anything could happen.

“I cannot say that I have won the race,” he said, responding to a question about whether the general classification was now settled. “The team will for sure work a lot in the last two stages. I cannot say I am the winner until I cross the finish-line in Kuala Lumpur.”

Monsalve’s quest for yellow was aided by the fact that the battle for the blue points jersey was more or less settled yesterday. Malaysian favourite Anuar Manan had been leading but slipped right back when he was badly placed in the finishing sprint. He and the new points leader Andrea Guardini didn’t dispute the intermediate sprints today and this freed things up for the general classification contenders Monsalve and Nino Corredor to fight it out.

Perhaps showing fatigue after battles earlier in the race, Guardini and Manan were also absent from the top slots in the finishing sprint. The four-time stage winner was best placed of the two in fourth place, while Manan was back in eleventh. Forster had been beaten by Guardini yesterday, but he got the upper hand over his rivals today.

“It's the first victory of the season, it's a great feeling,” he said. “I changed team this year and worked hard in the winter, but the winter in Germany was very cold. So I had some problems in the first three or four stages but now the legs are good.”

A numbers of riders were clear during the stage and inside the final 15 kilometres, six were off the front. From this group Floris Goesinnen (Drapac Professional Cycling) soloed ahead and went close to taking the win. However he was hauled back with just over a kilometre to go, and then Forster’s team-mates helped lead him out. “There was some great work by the team – they went to the front in the last kilometre so I could have a good sprint.”

Like all the other riders, he was battling the elements today. However the temperatures stayed up and that helped things. “It’s been rainy but it’s not cold… 24 degrees, so nobody is cold,” he said. “It makes it a hard race, but it’s not so hard like 20 degrees below. Anyway, I hope it’s not raining tomorrow and we can ride an easier race.”

That sentiment will be echoed by the rest of the peloton, but unfortunately the weather forecast for the remainder of the race is not good.

How it happened:

Going against expectations for this time of the year, it was pouring rain at the start of stage eight of the Tour de Langkawi and would remain wet and overcast for what was the longest stage of the race. The riders faced 156.5 soggy kilometres from Kuala Pilah to Jasin, with intermediate sprints at Bahau (km 18.7), Gemencheh (km 122.7) and Selandar (km 141.2). The stage would also be spiced up by category four
King of the Mountains primes at Jempol (km 27.4) and Palong (km 50.3).

Despite some attacks, the peloton remained together until after the first intermediate sprint. There Boris Shpilevsky (Tabriz Petrochemical Team) grabbed first slot, but what was more important was the second place of Jonnatha Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli). He beat team-mate
Luca Barla to earn a two second time bonus, moving level on time with race leader Libardo Nino Corredor (Le Tua).

Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano) continued his progression in the King of the Mountains competition when he beat Hyosuk Gong (Korea National Team) and Antonio Santoro (Androni Giocattoli) to the hilltop prime at Jempol. However he lost out on possible points when he could only get third behind Taiji Nishitani (Aisan Racing Team) and Othman M. Adiq (Drapac Professional Cycling) at Palong.

Adiq’s team-mate was the first to spend an extended amount of time off the front, attacking and holding a two and a half minute lead over the peloton at kilometre 90. Pushed along by a tailwind, he covered 96.3 kilometres in the first two hours of racing and continued to ride hard. However the Androni team were monitoring things behind and at the intermediate sprint line, Pell was just one minute and six seconds ahead of the next riders, Monsalve and Dennis Van Niekerk. Nino Corredor was fourth, out of the time bonuses and slipping two seconds behind the new virtual leader Monsalve.

Pell was rapidly weakening and he was caught and dropped by Omar Lombardi (Colnago CSF Inox Pro) and Andrei Krasilnikau (Chipotle Development Team) before km 130. Lombardi persisted and was joined by Pierre Quemeneur (Team Europcar) and Benjamin Gourgue (Landbouwkrediet). However they were soon caught, and a six man group then pushed ahead.

Out of this selection,
Geert Verheyen (Landbouwkrediet), Gu Jang Kyung (Korea National Team), Koen de Kort (Skil Shimano) and Floris Goesinnen (Drapac Professional Cycling) took the four placings at the final prime of the day, the intermediate sprint at Selandar. From there fifteen kilometres remained, and Goesinnen clipped away closer to the line to try to take the win. However he was caught with just over a kilometre to go and the peloton battled it out in the sixth bunch sprint of the week.

André Schulze (CCC Polstat Polkowice) and
Robert Forster (United Healthcare) were neck and neck coming to the line, but the latter edged it in the photo finish and clocked up a win for the US team. Monsalve came in as part of the main group and took over yellow from a disappointed Nino Corredor.

He holds a two second advantage heading into tomorrow’s penultimate stage, the 151.7 kilometre race from Melaka to Nilai. Aside from one category four King of the Mountains climb, it features three categorised sprints and should see more tussling between the first two riders in the general classification. Things remain tight and there's everything to race for.