By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
The list of contenders for the 2002 Tour de Langkawi overall title was drastically diminished Tuesday, following a major shake-up on the race’s fifth day, a 129.7-kilometer trip south from Bangi to Melaka.
Those still alive include Mapei-Quick Step’s Robbie Hunter, who retained the yellow jersey he’s owned since the first day of this race, last year’s TDL overall winner Paolo Lanfranchi (Alexia Alluminio), and even young Canadian mountain biker Ryder Hesjedal.
Those who will now treat the last half of this 10-day, 1310-kilometer affair as a training exercise include Mapei big gun Andrea Tafi, Canadian Eric Wohlberg, and every other rider who missed Tuesday’s key 32-rider break. When the damage was added up, 28 riders were left in the big move, crossing the line in 2:48:58, some 14:59 ahead of the peloton.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and missed the split,” Tafi said afterward.
Now, with three relatively tame days to come before the brutal climb up to the Genting Highlands, there are no more than a dozen riders who still have a chance for the TDL title.
On top of that list for now is Hunter, who picked up his third win in five days by winning the sprint for Stage 5, a race so close that judges had to look at the finish-line photo before declaring the 24-year-old South African the winner. Coming into the final 150 meters Hunter found himself badly boxed, and it looked like eventual second-place finisher Antonio Salomone would take the day. But Hunter managed to wiggle free, then came even with the Italian Alexia Allumino rider. From there it was a flat-out drag race to the line, with Hunter coming across first, no more than half a wheel length ahead of Salomone. Hong Kong’s Kam-Po Wong took a surprising third.
“When I got here I would have been happy to get a single stage win,” Hunter said. “Today the Mapei guys (Charlie Wegelius and David Canada Gracia) rode awesome, chasing down all the dangerous moves and keeping me in just the right position.”
That left the top two in overall standings unchanged, with Hunter first, followed by Colombian climber Hernan Dario Munoz (Columbia-Selle Italia), at 1:49. From there only 25 other riders are within 6:46 of the lead, all of them members of the day’s deciding break. After that the gaps shoots to 14 minutes, too much time even with Genting looming on the horizon.
Those to watch come Stage 9’s critical climb include iTeamNova’s Allan Iacuone (5th overall at 2:52), Columbia-Selle Italia’s Ruber Alverio Marin (7th at 3:00), Mapei’s David Canada Gracia (10th at 3:23), Lanfranchi (14th at 3:59), and maybe Hesjedal (15th at 4:03). All list climbing near the top of their resumes, a skill that will be paramount when the road turns painfully steep on Saturday.
Quick reaction was the skill necessary on Tuesday. After 29 kilometers on a flat twisty road through the Malaysian countryside, the first of two moderate climbs began. Near the top, with the sun hammering down once again, 31 riders broke off the front of the peloton, chased down an early run away, and charged away from the peloton.
At 60 kilometers the gap was 5:00. At 76km it was 8:40, and by the time they reached 100km it had grown to double digits, at 11:45. Behind, the peloton did little to bring things back, as most of the major team’s were represented. The gap would eventually peak at 18 minutes, before things tightened up slightly at the end.
Racing heads south on Wednesday with a 172-kilometer trip from Muar to Johor Bahru, which sits on the border with Singapore and is the third largest city in Malaysia. The course is another flat run, with no major climbs to speak of.
— It was another strong day for the Asian riders. Bolstered by his third-place finish, Wong moved from 39th to 18th in the overall standings, at 5:08. Also in the break was Wong’s Telekom Malaysia teammate, Tonton Sushanto. The Indonesian is now sixth in the overall standings, and took possession of the blue jersey, which is given to the top placed Asian rider.
— Despite missing the key break and ending his hopes of an overall win, Tafi held onto the green points jersey. There was also no change with the climber’s jersey, as Japanese national team rider Shinichi Fukushimi finished 15th Tuesday, and is now 21st overall.
— The field lost two more riders, bringing the number still racing to 142. Canadian Andrew Pinfold didn’t make the start, apparently the victim of a stomach problem. Another was lost to the 35-percent time cut rule.
TOUR DE LANGKAWI, Malaysia. February 1-10, 2002
Stage 5: Bengi to Melaka
1. Robbie Hunter (SA), Mapei-Quick Step, 129.7km in2:48:58 (46.06kph); 2. Antonio Salomone (I), Alexia Alluminio; 2. Kam-Po Wong (HKG), Telekom Malaysia; 4. Fortunato Baliani (I), Colombia-Selle Italia; 5. Christophe Le Mevel (F), Credit Agricole; 6. Marco Battiston (I) Alexia Alluminio; 7. Mickael Pichon (F) Bonjour; 8. Germ Nieto Fernandez (Sp), Relax-Fuenlabrada; 9. Stive Vermaut (B), Lotto-Adecco; 10. Michele Scarponi (I), Acqua & Sapone; Also; 16. Paolo Lanfranchi (I), Alexia Alluminio; 19. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Canadian National, all same time; 47. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei-Quick Step, at 14:59; Overall standings; 1. Hunter, 14:27:56; 2. 2. Munoz, at 1:49; 3. Pichon, at 2:00; 4. Rene Joergensen (Dk), Team Fakta, at 2:36; 5. Allan Iacuone (Aus), iTeamNova.com, at 2:52; 6. Tonton Susanto (Idn) Telekom Malaysia, at 2:56; 7. Ruber Alverio Marin (Col), Colombia-Selle Italia, at 3:00; 8. Dominique Perras (Can), iTeamNova.com, at 3:14; 9. Artour Babaitsev (Rus), Team Nürnberger, at 3:17; 10. David Canada Gracia (Sp), Mapei-Quick Step, at 3:23; Also; 14. PaoloLanfranchi (I), Alexia Alluminio, at 3:59; 15. Hesjedal, at 4:31; 35. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Canadian National, 18:15; 36. Tafi, at 18:34