On the day when Hariff Salleh of the Terengganu Cycling team made it a grand double with his second stage win in two days, Yusup Abrekov of Uzbekistan Suren is almost as good as having secured his first overall title of the Jelajah Malaysia.
The 27-year-old Abrekov, who had been wearing the leader’s yellow jersey since Stage Two, had only his team mates to thank for yet another day of hard work they put in. Abrekov is still 21 seconds ahead of second-placed Jai Crawford (RTS Racing team) and third Yasuharu Nakajima (Aisan Racing team) heading into tomorrow’s sixth and final stage.
With Abrekov unable to converse well in English, the current scenario going into the final stage tomorrow – a 199.5km ride from Ipoh to Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur – is well summarised by today’s stage winner Hariff, who completed the 193.4km Stage Five from Sungai Petani to Ipoh with a time of 4:34:40.
“I think that the yellow jersey is as good as gone. Shinichi (Fukushima) is quite close on seventh in the GC but there’s only one stage tomorrow so it will be tough to make things happen. It has to be a spectacular ride to change the inevitable,” said Hariff, who had also won Stage Four from Kangar in Perlis to Sungai Petani in Kedah the previous day.
“We made a mistake in the second stage when we threw everything we had into protecting the yellow jersey (which was worn Shinichi then). That costs us not only the yellow jersey but also a better classification in the team GC (TSG are currently placed 12th).”
Immediately after the neutral zone, several breakaways took place but Uzbekistan Suren were maintaining a tight grip to make sure that they allowed only those riders posing no threat to Abrekov, their leader in yellow, to get by.
The eight riders who managed to break away were Sofian Nabil Bakri (Terengganu), Rauf Misbah (Selangor), Al Ghazali Hamid (Malaysia Development), Suherman Heryadi (Putra Perjuangan), Umardi Rosdi (TSG), Khairul Azhar (Kedah), Shahbana Agung (Putra Perjuangan) and Kyle Marwood (Genesys).
They opened up a lead of more than three minutes heading into the first sprint at Megamall Penang with Sofian Nabil going on to take the first sprint, ahead of Suherman, Umardi and Al Ghazali.
There was no effort on the peloton to give chase as they allowed the front group to be comfortable hovering around three minutes in the advantage as they head into the second sprint at Bagan Serai (marker 84.7km).
A crash just 2km from the second sprint saw three Pure Black Racing team riders getting entangled as Sofian Nabil went on to pick the sprint as well at Bagan Serai ahead of Al Ghazali, Rauf and Suherman.
The three Pure Black riders – Roman Van Uden, James Williamson and Michael Torckler – have all re-joined the race.
After 120km, the gap between the breakaway group and the peloton was reduced to just over two minutes as Agung Ali Shahbana (putra Perjuangan) took the Cat 4 climb in Padang Rengas to be followed by Marwood (Genesys) and Khairul Azhar (Kedah).
“There’s two more climbs tomorrow but I feel comfortable that we can protect it all the way to the finish,” added Dadi Suryadi (Putra Perjuangan), the current KOM leader in the red jersey.
Torckler tried in vain to catch up to the front group but failed as Suherman (Putra) went on to take the third sprint at Talang to be followed by Sofian Nabil (Terengganu), Umardi (TSG) and Rauf (Selangor).
“It is another long stage tomorrow. And while I feel confident, it is also important that I do not take risks and get involved in accident or anything like that,” quipped Muhammad Adiq Husainie Othman (Malaysia Development team), the leader of the green jersey.
Not too long afterwards, the peloton finally pushed forward to reel in the breakaway group.
And as they head past the 150km marker, a new front group was formed with Lee Rodgers (RTS), Dani Lesmana (Polygon Sweet Nice), Timo Scholz (CCN Cycling team), Van Uden (Pure Black), Zamri (TSG), Aristya (Putra) and Bambang Suryadi (Polygon Sweet Nice).
But into the last 4km into Ipoh City, the peloton replied to bring in all the front riders back into the fold as they prepare for another bunch finish for Hariff to take his second consecutive stage win ahead of Nor Ridzuan Zainal (Armed Forces) and Alex Carver (Genesys).
Tomorrow’s sixth and final stage will be a 199.5km ride from Ipoh, Perak to Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur.
PODIUM RESULTS – Stage Five
Stage winner – Hariff Salleh (Terengganu Cycling team)
Yellow Jersey - Yusup Abrekov (Uzbekistan Suren Team)
Green jersey - Muhammad Adiq Husainie Othman (Malaysia Development)
Red jersey – Dadi Suryadi (Putra Perjuangan)
White jersey (Best Malaysian) - Muhammad Adiq Husainie Othman (Malaysia Development)
Blue jersey (Best Asian) – Yusup Abrekov (Uzbekistan Suren Team)