LANGKAWI, Malaysia — Andrea Guardini (Astana) continued his hot streak on Sunday, avoiding a crash with a kilometer to go and out-sprinting neopro Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) and Anuar Manan (Terrengganu Cycling Team) to win stage 1 of the Tour de Langkawi.
Guardini now leads Ewan on the overall by four seconds with Ma Guangtong (Hengxiang Cycling Team) third at five seconds.
It was the fifth straight start here for Guardini, who has collected 15 of his 29 pro stage wins in the past five years at Langkawi.
“Our team worked really good and followed the train of Orica-GreenEdge and I started my sprint at 200 meters,” said Guardini. “I am in good shape and happy to win today.”
The 25-year-old has been on a tear in the early part of the season, with three top-four points-classification finishes in the Middle East, including third at the Dubai Tour, fourth at Tour of Qatar and first at Tour of Oman.
“I have a really good start to the season and I take a lot of placements,” Guardini told VeloNews before starting the 99.2km stage. “Only one victory but there are a lot of races and a lot of stages here in Langkawi for me and my team.”
The Italian makes no secret of his preference for warmer climates this time of year.
“I am feeling good in the hot races as I don’t suffer a lot in the heat,” said the two-time Giro d’Italia stage winner. “For me, it’s good to be here and not in the cold of Europe as I race better in 40 (Celsius) and dry than 5C and raining, for sure.”
Not all the heat is welcome, however. Guardini’s Astana team has been in the hot seat following a rash of doping positives last year.
Artur Fedosseyev tested positive for steroids at the Tour de l’Ain in August, joining teammates and compatriots Victor Okishev, Ilya Davidenok, and brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy with doping positives in the latter half of the 2014 season.
The UCI recommended last week that the License Commission revoke Astana’s WorldTour license.
“It’s not my problem,” said Guardini. “I’m a rider and I [do] my job, and if there are some problems with the team, our team is dedicated to resolve these problems as we have nothing to cover and we are clear.
“I stay here for race and for win — I [do] my job.”
Joining Guardini at the eight-day stage race are countryman Italian Valerio Agnoli and Kazakhstan’s Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, Daniil Fominykh, Maxat Ayazbayev and Andrey Zeits.
Guardini told VeloNews the team’s morale remains high despite its uncertain future.
“Our riders are really quite without stress and without any problems,” he said. “Sometimes the media puts a lot of pressure on us, but for us we have nothing to cover and we stay really easy.”
But when asked about his own future should Astana’s WorldTour license be revoked, Guardini emphatically concluded the interview.
“I won’t talk about this,” said Guardini. “I think it’s stupid to talk about this.”
The race returns to the Malaysian mainland on Monday with the 185km stage 2 from Alor Setar to Sungai Petani. It should end in another bunch sprint, giving Guardini the opportunity to claim win No. 16 in Langkawi.
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.