By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
While sports fans across America were taking in the final moments of one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, racing was just getting underway on Monday here in Malaysia. And while Stage 4 wasn’t as dramatic as the New England Patriots stunning win over the St. Louis Rams, it was by far the most exciting day of racing yet in the 2002 Tour de Langkawi.
When it was over Mobilvetta Design’s Moreno Di Biase had himself a stage win, while Mapei Quick-Step’s Robbie Hunter had upped his lead in the overall standings to 1:39. Hernan Dario Munoz (Columbia-Selle Italia) and Hunter’s Italian teammate, Luca Scinto, now share second place in the GC.
The day began in the small town of Tapah, known in Malaysia as the gateway to the Cameroon Highlands. The trip would finish 176.4 kilometers to the southwest in Bentong. In between riders faced the toughest test yet in this year’s TDL, the Cat. 1 climb up Fraser Gap.
The first 90 kilometers of racing ran straight south along a wide flat road. Early on there were the customary attacks from riders trying to get some airtime, but nothing stuck until Shinichi Fukushimi rolled away at the 25-kilometer mark. The Japanese rider would build a gap that would peak near 12 minutes, but a solo effort on this long, hot day wasn’t likely to stick, and the peloton gave him barely a glance, as it rolled the first 95 kilometers at a leisurely pace.
But when the course made the turn left to the west, and the road tilted upwards, things began to get interesting. The weak-legged quickly began shooting off the back, while the strong ramped up the pace for the climb to the top of the narrow and twisty jungle lined road.
Still it wasn’t until after the peloton had made the summit, that the major move of consequence would occur. Led by a hard charging Hunter, a group of 15 riders separated from the pack on the hair-raising decent down to Bentong.
Among the missing was Alexia and its team leader Paolo Lanfranchi, meaning there was good reason to drive hard for home. It was also there where the courageous Fukushimi was caught. The Japanese national team rider had earned himself the climber’s jersey by making it to the top of the climb first, but he wasn’t much of a descender and was quickly caught by the chase.
Now numbering 16, the break built an advantage that peaked at 2:30. And this move, unlike Sunday’s final group of five, had what it took to stay away. At the finish, it was a clear battle between Hunter and Di Biase, but the Italian had more gas, and nipped Hunter by less than a bike length.
“Coming into the last bend the guys up front went right and left the inside open,” said Hunter, who was lead out by teammate Luca Scinto. “Moreno shot the gap, and that was it.”
Thirteen riders survived the final kilometers of the race, all credited with finishing times of 4:16:07. The bunch, including race favorites Andrea Tafi and Lanfranchi, arrived 2:05 later. Also among that group was Canadian Eric Wohlberg, who fell from second to 11th at 3:06, after missing the key break. Lanfranchi is now 20th, at 3:49, while Tafi sits in 16th, at 3:25.
Racing in the 10-day, 1310-kilometer race continues Tuesday with a 129.7 kilometer run from Bangi to Melaka. Outside of one small climb, it’s a relatively flat trip, meaning the sprinters will likely decide the outcome.
— Canadian Ryder Hesjedal had a respectable day, staying in the peloton to finish 34th. He now sits 27th, at 4:21 in the overall standings.
— The big winners on this day were the riders from Asia. Bolstered by Kam-Po Wong’s fifth-place effort, Telekom Malaysia took the day’s team title and moved from sixth to third in the overall standings. Wong’s teammate, Iranian Ghader Mizbani was 14th on Monday, and took over the blue jersey as the top GC placed Asian rider, ninth overall.
— A full field of 146 started the day, but two missed the time cut and were eliminated.
TOUR DE LANGKAWI, Malaysia. February 1-10, 2002
Stage 4: Tapah to Bentong
1. Moreno Di Biase (I), Mobilvetta Design, 176.4km in 4:16:03 (41.34kph); 2. Robert Hunter (SA), Mapei-Quick Step; 3. Frédéric Amorison (B), Lotto-Adecco; 4. Mickael Pichon (F) Bonjour; 5. Wong Kam-Po (HKN), Telekom Malaysia; 6. Ruber Alverio Marin (Col), Colombia-Selle Italia; 7. Rene Joergensen (Dk), Team Fakta; 8. Allan Iacuone (Aus), iTeamNova.com; 9. Luca Scinto (I); Mapei-Quick Step; 10. Tonton Susanto, (Ira), Telekom Malaysia, all same time; Also; 16. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei-Quick Step, at 2:05; 34. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Canadian National; 35. Jens Voight (G), Credit Agricole; 38. Geoff Kabush (Can), Canadian National; 45. Paolo Lanfranchi (I), Alexia Alluminio; 56. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Canadian National; 64. Mario Aerts (B), Lotto-Adecco, all same time; 91. Graeme Miller (NZ), Telekom Malaysia, at 11:21; 136. Enrico Degano (I), Ceramiche Panaria, at 16:46; Overall standings; 1. Robert Hunter (SA), Mapei-Quick Step 11:39:08; 2. Hernan Dario Munoz (Col), Columbia-Selle Italia, at 1:39; 3. Luca Scinto (I), Mapei-Quick Step, same time; 4. Mickael Pichon (F), Bonjour, at 1:50; 5. Ghader Mizbani (Ira), Telekom Malaysia, at 2:24; 6. Rene Jorgensen (Dk), Team Fakta, at 2:26; 7. Allan Iacuone (Aus), iTeamNova.com, at 2:42; 8. Frédéric Amorison (B), Lotto-Adecco, at 2:44; 9. Tonton Susanto (Ind), Telekom Malaysia, at 2:46; 10. Ruber Alverio Marin (Col), Columbia-Selle Italia, at 2:50; Also; 11. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Canadian National, at 3:06; 16. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei-Quick Step, at 3:25; 20. Paolo Lanfranchi (I), Alexia Alluminio, at 3:49; 27. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Canadian National, at 4:21; 32. Jens Voight (G), Credit Agricole, at 4:41; 37. Mario Aerts (B), Lotto-Adecco, at 4:50; 61. Geoff Kabush (Can), Canadian National, at 6:07