By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
The warning came courtesy of Andrea Tafi at the team dinner Tuesday night.
“Don’t eat too much for breakfast tomorrow,” he announced. “Wednesday will be a hard day.”
The 35-year-old Italian was miffed that he’d missed the race’s key break earlier in the day, and was now planning on exacting some revenge. His strategy would be simple: Keep the pace high during Wednesday’s flat 172-kilometer ride, and see who would wilt under the searing sun. The result was lightning-quick trip south from Muar to Johor Bahru. But the competition proved up to the task, and another day ended in a sprint finish here in Malaysia.
When it was done, Australian Graeme Brown stood atop the podium, owner of a win in Stage 6 of the 2002 Tour de Langkawi. A step behind was South African Robbie Hunter, who just missed adding his fourth stage win, but held onto the yellow jersey he first earned at the TDL’s opening day time trial.
All told 133 riders were credited with same 3:39:27 finishing time, which worked out to a blistering 47kph. That meant there was no change in the top 20 names of the GC, though Hunter did add six seconds to his overall lead after picking up a time bonus. He is now 1:55 ahead Colombian Hernan Dario Munoz (Columbia Selle-Italia), with Frenchman Mickael Pichon (Bonjour) third, at 2:06.
As for Wednesday’s sprint, Hunter might have had that fourth win had he not been trying to set up Tafi. Instead his teammate got stuck up in traffic and failed to latch on, leaving Hunter to contest the sprint.
“I was expecting Tafi to be on my wheel,” Hunter said, “but when I looked back he wasn’t there.”
Instead he saw Brown (Ceramiche Panaria), who had received a perfect leadout from teammate Enrico Degano, and went on to cross the line half a bike length in front of Hunter.
“After Enrico won Stage 3, he told me the next one would be for me,” Brown said. “He set me up perfectly.”
Tafi would have to settle for fourth, leaving the former Paris-Roubaix champion empty handed once again.
“It is very difficult for me to win a stage here, because everyone is always watching me,” he said. “All I can do is keep trying.”
Stage 6’s racing began in Muar, a small riverside town near the country’s western coast. Here the crowds were the biggest yet for a start, with throngs of screaming young children lining the roads in their blue and white school uniforms. From there the course gradually traveled east through the palm-tree-dominated countryside, crossing over the country’s main north-south highway at the 80-kilometer mark. The road then turned south, heading to the finish in Johor Bahru, the country’s third largest city, which is just a causeway-drive away from Singapore.
The attacks came quickly, with the first rider dashing off at the 2-kilometer mark. But with Mapei — and especially Tafi — up front and driving hard, no one was able to get away during the first 110 kilometers. Finally at 111k Frédérick Amorison (Lotto-Adecco) and Benoît Poilvet (Credit Agricole) were joined by Andy Flickinger (Ag2r-Prevoyance) and Stage 4 winner Moreno Di Biase (Mobilvetta Design) in a move that would top out at 1:48.
But the peloton was quick to turn on the jets, and the gap steadily came down until everyone was back together with seven kilometers to go.
It was a sprinter’s race from there, and Brown proved to be the best of the bunch.
Racing at this 10-day, 1310-kilometer affair continues Thursday, with the event’s longest stage, a 196.7-kilometer trip north from Kluang to Tampin. There is just one climb, a 2-kilometer Cat. 4 ascent 130k in. Next comes an 80-kilometer transfer to the coastal town of Port Dickson.
— Following the race the media was gathered for a press conference with Italian cycling legend Francesco Moser, who is now a member of the UCI’s upgrade committee. Moser is in Malaysia to observe this year’s TDL, then report back to the UCI, which will decide in September whether or not to increase the race’s rating from 2.3 to 2.2.
“All the conditions are here,” Moser said through interpreter. “The race has nothing less than any of the big races in Europe.”
— There were several crashes in the final kilometers, including one that resulted in a bike being completely sheared near the headset. The crashes also forced the judges to credit all 133 riders in the peloton with the same finishing time. There were no reports of any serious injuries, though.
— The South African national team was served a harsh sentence after they were caught motor-pacing Jeremy Maartens for “some time” according to the commissaires notes. Maartens was disqualified from the race, as was the team’s No. 2 support vehicle. That, combined with one no-show in the morning, brings the expected field for Thursday’s race to 138.
— Spectator numbers are slightly down this year, but the event’s promoter says that the live television broadcasts and the blinding heat are likely to blame. Better to be inside out of the sun watching the race on TV is the logic.
TOUR DE LANGKAWI, Malaysia. February 1-10, 2002
Stage 6: Muar to Johor Bahru
1. Graeme Brown (Aus), Ceramiche Panaria, 172km in 3:39:27 (47.03 kph); 2. Robbie Hunter (SA), Mapei-Quick Step; 3. Hendrik Van Dyck (B), Palmans-Collstrop; 4. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei-Quick Step; 5. Lorenzo Cardellini (I) Acqua & Sapone; 6. Lubor Tesar (Czh), Team Nürnberger; 7. Linas Balciunas (Lit), Ag2r Prevoyance; 8. Fulco Van Gulik (Nl), Lotto-Adecco; 9. Bo Allan Andresen (Dk), Team Fakta; 10. Antonio Salomone (I), Alexia Alluminio, all same time; Overall standings; 1. Hunter, 18:07:17; 2. Hernan Dario Munoz (Col), Colombia-Selle Italia, at 1:55; 3. Mickael Pichon (F), Bonjour, at 2:06; 4. Rene Joergensen (Dk), Team Fakta, at 2:42; 5. Allan Iacuone (Aus), iTeamNova.com, at 2:58; 6. Tonton Susanto (Ind), Telekom Malaysia, at 3:02; 7.Ruber Alverio Marin (Col), Colombia-Selle Italia, at 3:06; 8. Dominque Perras (Can), iTeamNova.com, at 3:20; 9. Artour Babaitsev (Rus), Team Nürnberger, at 3:23; 10. David Canada Gracia (Sp), Mapei-Quick Step, at 3:29; Also; 14. Paolo Lanfranchi (I), Alexia Alluminio, at 4:05; 15. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Canadian National, at 4:37; 34. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Canadian National, at 18:21; 35. Tafi, at 18:40