By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
Another day, another sprint at the Tour de Langkawi. But for the first time this year someone other than Robbie Hunter crossed the line first. Led by a strong chase, then lead-out from his Panaria team, Italian Enrico Degano emerged from the peloton on the final straightway to take the win on Sunday in Malaysia.
Degano and 131 others were all credited with the finishing time of 2:38:44 in the 129.6-kilometer stage.
There were no significant changes in the overall standings, as South African Robbie Hunter (Mapei-Quick Step) finished fourth, losing no time and retaining the yellow jersey he first took with a victory in the Stage 1 time trial. Canadian Eric Wohlberg (Canadian National) and Russian Artour Babaitsev (Team Nurnberger) round out the top three in GC.
Entering the final 3 kilometers of Sunday’s race there was a group of five, including Mapei-Quick Step’s Andrea Tafi, struggling to hang on to a slim 19-second advantage. But with only four willing workers they couldn’t stay away, and were swallowed up a kilometer from the finish. From there the Panaria train went into action, delivering Degano and teammate Graeme Brown across the line together for a 1-2 finish.
“The team worked perfect today,” said the 26-year-old who now owns a TDL record five stage wins, including a pair last year. “We decided that this would be our plan this morning.”
For Tafi, who retained the green points jersey for the second day, he could only wonder what might have been.
“When we were in the big group everyone was working hard,” said the 35-year-old Italian. “But when it was five not everyone was convinced that they could win, so none of us win.”
The group in question first formed about 60km into the 129.6km run from Lumut to Ipoh, a trip that took riders north along Malaysia’s western coast before turning to the east where the race’s first two climbs waited. First to go were Hans De Meester (Palmans-Collstrop) and Scott Guyton (iTeamNove.com). Together the pair built a margin that topped out at 1:32, and De Meester, a sprinter by trade, managed to crest both of the slight Cat. 4 climbs first, earning the KOM jersey.
“I was going to go for them,” Guyton said. “But they were more like a couple of sprints than a climb. I did the first one in my 11, and I think the second was actually a little bit downhill.”
Behind Guyton and De Meester, a strong chase group had formed, including riders from most of the major players. Working together they were able to reel in the two runaways, and with 50km to go there were 14 riders out front, 1:02 up on the peloton. Hunter and Tafi were both among that group.
From there the pace quickened as both breakaway and peloton ramped up the speed, pushing the needle to 48kph over the first two hours. Under the pressure of that blazing pace, plus the scorching sun that pushed temperatures into the 90s once again, things started to break up. In the front riders were being spit off the back. Behind them the peloton had split in two, with last year’s winner Paolo Lanfranchi on the wrong end of the fracture.
“We didn’t expect things to be that fast and actually called it quits when the small group got away,” Hunter said. “But the Lotto and Credit Agricole guys were working hard and brought it back. At that point we were hoping the bigger group would stay away because Tafi was there.”
It was not to be though, as the roads into Ipoh, were straight, wide and fast, allowing everything to come back together. First the once-fractured peloton reformed as one 35km from the finish. Next sights were set on what was left of the initial break, now down to just five: Tafi, Alberto Elli (Alexia), Lennie Kristensen (Fakta), Ruber Alveiro Marin (Colombia-Selle Italia) and Rodney Green (South African National). But Marin was declining to take his turn at the front, and the pack was closing quickly.
With 13km to go the gap was 32 seconds; at 4km it was 15; and by the final kilometer it was gone.
“When the bunch gets a sniff of the break and you get people working things disappear quickly,” Hunter said of the finish.
Stage 4 on Monday will offer the first real test of this 10-day, 1310-kilometer race. After a 60km transfer in the morning, riders will face a 176.4-kilometer run from Tapah to Bentong. And while the first 70 kilometers resemble the flat trips of Stage 2 and 3, the road then turns up for the climb up Fraser Hill, a Cat. 1 rise.
Lotto-Adecco’s Kevin Van Impe did not start on Sunday. He crashed and broke a bone the day before. The race also lost four other riders, three who failed to meet the time cut (10 percent for Asian riders, 35 percent for everybody else), and one who was disqualified for holding onto the team car. That means the total number of riders expected to start Monday’s stage will be 146.
— Arnel Quirimit continues to lead the Asian rider standings. The Philippine rider is 12th overall, 1:36 behind Hunter.
— According to a race official, the Tour de Langkawi cavalcade is the biggest in the world. True or not, the line-up of the sponsor cars in Lumut stretched for what seemed like a mile.
TOUR DE LANGKAWI, Malaysia. February 1-10, 2002
Stage 3: Lumut to Ipoh
1. Enrico Degano (I), Ceramiche Panaria, 129.6km in 2:38:44 (48.99kph); 2. Graeme Brown (Aus), Ceramiche Panaria; 3. Mario Traversoni (I), Mobilvetta; 4. Robert Hunter (SA), Mapei-Quick Step; 5. Ruber Alveiro Marin (Col), Colombia-Selle Italia; 6. Lubor Tesar (Czh), Team Nürnberger; 7. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei-Quick Step; 8. Lennie Kristensen (Dk), Team Fakta; 9. Daniele Galli (I) Alexia Alluminio; 10. Dirk Schumann (G), Team Nürnberger; Also; 12. Artour Babaitsev (Rus), Team Nürnberger; 27. Graeme Miller (NZ), Telekom Malaysia; 32. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Canadian National; 45. Geoff Kabush (Can), Canadian National; 52. Jens Voight (G), Credit Agricole; 57. Paolo Lanfranchi (I), Alexia Alluminio; 70. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Canadian National; 73. Mario Aerts (B), Lotto-Adecco; Overall standings; 1. Hunter, 7:23:11; 2. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Canadian National, at 0:55; 3. Artour Babaitsev (Rus), Nurnberger, at 0:56; 4. David Canada (Sp), Mapei-Quick Step, at 1:02; 5. Tafi, at 1:14; 6. Nathan O’Neill (Aus), Ceramiche Panaria, at 1:20; 7. Bo Jorgen Petersen (Dk), Fakta, at 1:24; 8. Charles Wegelius (GB), Mapei-Quick Step, at 1:25; 9. Dario Hernan Munoz (Col), Columbia-Selle Italia, at 1:33; 10. Luca Scinto (I), Mapei-Quick Step, same time; Also; 13. Lanfranchi, at 1:38; 20. Hesjedal, at 2:10; 29. Voight, at 2:30; 38. Aerts, at 2:39; 89. Kabush, at 3:56