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By Rob Jones, VeloNews correspondent
Mapei-Quick Step finally made it onto the winner’s podium Thursday at the Tour de Langkawi, with Paolo Bettini just nipping Phonak’s Alexandre Usov at the line. Mercury Viatel’s Jans Koerts continues to hold onto the yellow leader’s jersey, with stage 2 winner Enrico Degano (Ceramiche Panaria) and Bettini 10 seconds back.
The 177km third stage along the east coast of Malaysia, from Kota Bharu to Kuala Terengganu, was led for much of the day by the breakaway duo of Svein Tuft (Team Canada) and Soren Petersen (Saturn). Tuft initiated the break a mere 6km into the stage, and was soon joined by Petersen. “I wanted to try and ride more aggressively. I thought of maybe just going for the sprints, but we were going well. I didn’t know if we could stay away, with the headwind, but we kept going.”
The pair quickly opened up a huge gap, reaching a maximum of 13 minutes before the peloton decided it was time to reel them in. First the Italians took up the chase – Mapei, Alexia Alluminio, Saeco and Selle Italia. Then Mercury joined the chase as well, and the lead began to melt away. The duo was finally caught after being away for over 120 km.
Now the attacks began in earnest as the race started to close in on the finish line. However, as in the first two stages, no one was getting away. When the field lined up for the sprint, the headwind proved to be the deciding factor, as early leaders faded, allowing Bettini to come through at the very end.
Gord Fraser (Mercury-Viatel) was one of the riders caught out by the wind, finishing 5th. “It was a big headwind sprint and it killed me. Our guys had set it up and Jans (Koerts) was bringing me in but I couldn’t hold, and neither could (Ivan) Quaranta (Alexia Alluminio), who came by me at the line. It was just a 100 meters too long for me.” Fraser was also feeling the effects of a wrist injury (left) suffered in a first stage crash, and is still “not a 100 percent. My morale is better than this morning (before the start), but I still can’t pull on the bars like I should.”
Bettini, recording Mapei’s first win of the season, rode a smart finish. “I was still behind with 10 meters to go and did not come off (Usov’s) wheel until the final five meters. The others had been caught by the wind, I could see, so it opened the way for me.” Bettini took the green points leader jersey with his win.
Stage 3 – Kota Bharu to Kuala Terengganu 177.3 km
1. Bettini, Paolo (I) Mapei-Quick Step 4:13:04 (42.04kph)
2. Usov, Alexandre (Brs) Phonak
3. Quaranta, Ivan (I) Alexia Alluminio
4. Hinault, Sebastien (F) Credit Agricole
5. Fraser, Gordon (Can) Mercury Viatel
6. Wrolich, Peter (A) Team Gerolsteiner
7. Balciunas, Linas (Lit) AG2R Prevoyance
8. Virbickas, Donatas (Lit) Collstrop-Palmans
9. Fernandez Domingo, David (Sp) Colchon Relax
10. Perraudeau, Olivier (F) Bonjour
11. Ruskys, Saulius (Lit) Team Gerolsteiner
12. Strazzer, Massimo (I) Mobilvetta For. Trentini
13. Arvesen, Kurt-Asle (N) Team Fakta
14. Nauduzs, Andris (Lat) Selle Italia-Pacific
15. Iijima, Makoto (Jpn) Japan
16. Mori, Massimiliano (I) Saeco Macchine Caffe
17. Jansen, Harm (Nl) Saturn
18. De Meester, Hans (B) Collstrop-Palmans
19. Pankov, Oleg (Ukr) Collstrop-Palmans
20. Mandoja, Innar (Est) AG2R Prevoyance all s.t.
29. Koerts, Jans (Nl) Mercury Viatel
33. Walters, Mark (Can) Canada
34. Klasna, Trent (USA) Saturn
47. Erker, Jacob (Can) Canada
54. Petersen, Soren (Dk) Saturn
57. McCormack, Frank (USA) Saturn
62. Axelsson, Niklas (S) Mercury Viatel
64. Wherry, Chris (USA) Mercury Viatel
72. Barry, Michael (Can) Saturn
76. Decanio, Matthew (USA) Saturn all s.t.
81. Vogels, Henk (AUS) Mercury Viatel at 0:12
88. Randell, Andrew (Can) Canada
94. Horner, Chris (USA) Mercury Viatel
99. Fisher, Christopher (USA) Saturn
111. Seiniewicz, Greg (Can) Canada
114. Moninger, Scott (USA) Mercury Viatel
121. Van Velzen, Min (Can) Canada
128. Tuft, Svein (Can) Canada
129. Lange, Cory (Can) Canada all s.t.
GC after Stage 3
1. Koerts, Jans (Nl) Mercury Viatel 14:46:21
2. Degano, Enrico (I) Ceramiche Panaria 0:10
3. Bettini, Paolo (I) Mapei – Quick Step s.t.
4. Fraser, Gordon (Can) Mercury Viatel 0:14
5. Quaranta, Ivan (I) Alexia Alluminio 0:20
6. Usov, Alexandre (Brs) Phonak 0:21
7. Aggiano, Elio (I) Mapei – Quick Step 0:26
8. Jansen, Harm (Nl) Saturn s.t.
9. Miller, Graeme (NZ) Telekom Malaysia 0:28
10. Mori, Massimiliano (I) Saeco Macchine Caffe 0:29
11. Pankov, Oleg (Ukr) Collstrop-Palmans
12. Lanfranchi, Paolo (I) Mapei – Quick Step
13. Rasmussen, Jacob (Dk) CSC World Online
14. Weigold, Steffen (G) Team Gerolsteiner
15. Herve, Pascal (F) Alexia Alluminio
16. Rich, Michael (G) Team Gerolsteiner
17. Axelsson, Niklas (S) Mercury Viatel
18. Flecha Giannoni, Juan (Sp) Colchon Relax all s.t.
19. Strazzer, Massimo (I) Mobilvetta For. Trentini 0:31
20. Wrolich, Peter (A) Team Gerolsteiner 0:35
25. Wherry, Chris (USA) Mercury Viatel 0:39
28. Horner, Chris (USA) Mercury Viatel s.t.
30. Walters, Mark (Can) Canada 0:42
35. Klasna, Trent (USA) Saturn
38. Erker, Jacob (Can) Canada
43. Decanio, Matthew (USA) Saturn all s.t.
46. Petersen, Soren (Dk) Saturn 0:45
48. Moninger, Scott (USA) Mercury Viatel 0:47
70. McCormack, Frank (USA) Saturn 0:51
72. Barry, Michael (Can) Saturn s.t.
74. Vogels, Henk (AUS) Mercury Viatel 0:54
81. Lange, Cory (Can) Canada
82. Tuft, Svein (Can) Canada all s.t.
92. Randell, Andrew (Can) Canada 1:03
108. Seiniewicz, Greg (Can) Canada s.t.
131. Van Velzen, Min (Can) Canada 2:27