By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
It was just a coincidence that the torrential rains came precisely at the moment Andrea Tafi stepped onto the award’s podium. But when word came down an hour later that the Mapei-Quick Step rider had been relegated to the back of the bunch for an irregular sprint, it seemed awfully appropriate.
The penalty — handed down for throwing an elbow on the final straightaway — cost the 35-year-old Italian the green jersey, and continued what has been a frustrating trip to Malaysia for the aging star.
It was a much better day for Antonio Salomone. Following a year that was all but lost to a broken collarbone early in the 2001 season, the second-year Alexia Alluminio pro got his first career win, taking a tight sprint with Colombia-Selle Italia’s Andris Nauduzs on Stage 8 of the 2002 Tour de Langkawi.
Tafi had been listed third in the first set of results, but after a review of the replay, he was sent to 107th, meaning Lubor Tesar (Team Nurnberger) would be sporting the green come Saturday’s penultimate stage, the trip up to the Genting Highlands.
Otherwise there were no major changes during Friday’s uneventful 95.5-kilometer run from the coastal town of Port Dickson to the bustling city of Petaling Jaya. South African Robbie Hunter is still in yellow, 1:59 up on Colombia-Selle Italia’s Hernan Dario Munoz, with Mickael Pichon (Bonjour) in third, at 2:10.
Outside of one small climb, Friday’s stage was a flat run west that passed by a slew of palm-oil plantations, the Sepang Formula 1 circuit and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It was also the shortest stage of this 10-day, 1310-kilometer race.
Tafi was the biggest animator in the early going, jumping on the wheels of several breaks hoping to get away on this short stage. But the Alexia and Panaria teams were having none of it, chasing things down to make sure their sprinters would have a chance come the finish.
The only break of any consequence came courtesy of Benoit Poilvet (Credit Agricole) and Stive Vermaut (Lotto-Adecco), who jumped away at the 50-kilometer mark and built a gap that topped out at 1:43. But like the previous moves, the sprinter-laden teams were having none of it, and the two runaways were reeled in with 12 kilometers to go.
One last break took off at 17k mark, but it didn’t last long, getting sucked back in with 15k to go.
From there Panaria went on the offensive, moving to the front of the fast moving peloton, trying to set up Stage 6 winner Graeme Brown. Coming into the last 200 meters it looked like the orange-clad Italian-based team had done its job, shooting the Australian off the front. But Brown’s left foot came unclipped during the 90-degree turn at the 200-meter mark, opening the door for Salomone.
The Italian would not miss the opportunity, blasting across the line first with a time of 1:57:50, the same number credited to 106 of the 136 finishers.
“Tafi was in front but he took the turn too tight and lost his speed,” Salomone said through an interpreter. “I just went as hard as I could.”
Saturday brings Stage 9, which almost surely will decide the race. The133.3km stage begins in front of title sponsor Telekom Malaysia’s headquarters in downtown Kuala Lumpur, then heads west into the heart of the country. The first 90 kilometers are dead flat, but the road then tilts drastically upwards for the trip to the finishline in the lobby of the First World Hotel in the Genting Highlands. Officially the hors categorie ascent starts at the 106k mark, meaning riders will be heading upwards for 27.3 kilometers.
TOUR DE LANGKAWI, Malaysia. February 1-10, 2002
Stage 8: Port Dickson to Petaling Jaya
1. Antonio Salomone (I), Alexia Alluminio, 95.5km in 1:57:50 (48.63kph); 2. Andris Nauduzs (Lit), Colombia-Selle Italia; 3. Dirk Schumann (G), Team Nurnberger; 4. Graeme Brown (Aus), Ceramiche Panaria; 5. Lubor Tesar (Czh), Team Nurnberger; 6. David Fernandez (Sp), Relax-Fuenlabrada; 7. Bo Allan Andresen (Dk), Team Fakta; 8. Hendrik Van Dyck (B), Palmans-Collstrop; 9. Bjorn Leukemans (B), Palmans-Collstrop; 10. Shinri Suzuki (Jpn), Japan National, all same time; Overall standings; 1. Robbie Hunter (SA), Mapei-Quick Step, 1103.7km in 24:40:09:19; 2. Hernan Dario Munoz (Col), Colombia-Selle Italia, at 1:59; 3. Mickael Pichon (F), Bonjour, at 2:10; 4. Rene Joergensen (Dk), Team Fakta, at 2:46; 5. Tonton Susanto (Idn), Telekom Malaysia, at 3:06; 6. Artour Babaitsev (Rus), Team Nürnberger, at 3:27; 7. David Canada (Sp), Mapei-Quick Step, at 3:33; 8. David George (SA), South African National, at 3:43; 9. Nathan O’Neill (Aus), Ceramiche Panaria, at 3:51; 10. Charles Wegelius (GB), Mapei-Quick Step, at 4:06; Also; 11. Paolo Lanfranchi (I), Alexia Alluminio, at 4:09; 12. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Canadian National, at 4:41; 21. Dominique Perras (Can), iTeamNova.com, at 7:25; 30. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Canadian National, at 18:25; 31. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei-Quick Step, at 18:43