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Grueling Genting awaits
By Jason Sumner, VeloNews correspondent
Calling the seventh stage of the 2005 Tour de Langkawi purely academic would be a disservice to Aussie Graeme Brown and Japan’s Koji Fukushima. After all Brown did pick up his third stage win of this year’s race, upping his career record here to seven. And Fukushima easily held the yellow jersey for yet another day. But make no mistake, Thursday’s 167.7km rolling run from Maran to Raub was simply window dressing for the big show here in Malaysia.
Come Friday morning at 9:30, it will finally be time for the overall race to unfold, as stage 8 concludes with the brutal finishing ascent of the hors categorie Genting Highlands climb. This is where the overall title of this race will be won — and lost.
It was here on Genting a year ago when Colombia Selle Italia’s Marlon Perez imploded, handing the overall win to teammate Freddy Gonzalez. It was here on Genting that American Tom Danielson introduced himself to the world matching Colombian climbing ace Hernan Dario Munoz stroke for stroke to take the 2003 title. Indeed, it’s here on Genting where all of the previous nine editions of this race have been decided. Friday will be no different.
“Everybody knows tomorrow will decide the race,” said Canadian Michael Barry, who along with Danielson will carry the hopes of giving the new Discovery Channel team its first major win.
This will be Barry’s fourth go at Genting, but all the experience in the world won’t make the 97.9km trip any easier.
“The thing is not to do too hard an effort at the start,” said Barry of the leadup to the climb, which kicks off at the 61km mark and basically goes straight up for the rest of the way. “You can’t really recover, and the climb is so steep and so long. Plus it’s usually 40 degrees Celsius on black top roads, so you just try to be patient and ride steady tempo until you get to the final switchbacks.”
Those final switchbacks, which include ramps near 20 percent, will make gear choice another major factor. Danielson admitted he’ll opt for a 27 if the team mechanics can scrounge one up. But either way you get the feeling, the Durango, Colorado resident is going to be a player just as he was in 2003.
“I feel better each day,” Danielson said. “All of us came right from training camp and this has been easier than training camp so far. I think all of us are getting form.”
Besides the Discovery duo, all eyes will be affixed on Barloword’s Ryan Cox and Tiaan Kannemeyer, and the Selle Italia pair of Perez and Jose Rujano. Cox is the highest placed of all the GC threats, owning a 14-second cushion on Rujano, who’s next up. That, said Cox, will be the advantage he needs.
“We are all very confident and I’m feeling good,” said the South African who was second overall here a year ago. “All I’ve got to do is sit on Rujano’s wheel. He’s got to attack me and I’ve got a strong team. He’s got a hard job ahead of him.”
As for Thursday’s stage, it was standard issue Tour de Langkawi: Three riders break away early, dangle off the front for most of the day, then get caught just in time for the sprinters to go into action.
In this case the off-the-front fodder was the threesome of Belgian Nico Sijmens (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago), Dean Downing (Great Britain National) and German David Kopp (Wiesenhoff), who spent most of the day by themselves on the narrow roads of this east-to-west trip across the predominantly rural state of Pahang.
The trio came together at the 12km mark and built their advantage to 5:50 by the 87km mark. Behind them the peloton paid them little heed, enjoying the first significant cloud cover at this year’s race.
Finally, Panaria awoke at the 150km mark, and with some assistance from Navigators, the gap to the breakaway came tumbling down. Kopp, the last of the three to be reeled in, was caught with just 3km to go, and from there it was another mad dash for the line.
Unlike in previous days, the Panaria crew had to come from behind to get the win. In fact Brown was so buried coming around the last turn it looked like his team’s run of stage wins was surely over.
“There was a corner there that I actually didn’t know it was there,” Brown explained. “The corner with about 300 meters to go wasn’t in the race book. I think that shocked a few people. It definitely shocked me. I saw that and I didn’t know what was going on. It was a bit hectic and I lost [teammate Brett] Lancaster’s wheel at about 600 meters out and I was yelling ‘no,’ but ‘no’ sounds like ‘go.’ “That last corner looked a little bit tighter than it was so I braked a bit harder than I needed to. I thought everyone was going to crash actually. It was a little bit of a mistake on my behalf but it worked out at the end.”
Brown was also the benefactor of a premature celebration by Italian Moreno Di Biase (Colombia Selle Italia), who went from joy to clutching his head in agony all in the span of 5 meters.
“He had a big, big mistake and he lost the win for the reason that he was sure he would win,” lamented Selle Italia team boss Gianni Savio, who thought his man had won the race initially. “This is a huge mistake for a sprinter.”
But the ever-confident Brown didn’t think Di Biase’s error made any difference. “I reckon I would have gotten him either way,” he said. “I was going a lot quicker than he was.”
Welcome back Phonak
Pat McQuaid, the president of the UCI road commission and the race director of the Tour de Langkawi, says his organization was neither surprised nor opposed to the recent Court of Arbitration for Sport decision that put Phonak back in the ProTour.
“If Phonak had done everything at the beginning that they eventually did, they would have probably been in the ProTour all along,” he said. “And no matter what happens with Perez and Hamilton, they’ll stay in. They’ve taken the correct position on both riders. They got rid of them and that’s that. They no longer take the position with Hamilton that they took in the beginning.
“Once they accepted that there were blood anomalies within the team during the year, it wasn’t right to throw them out because of two riders who both have cases that are under appeal.”
A post on Hamilton’s Web site announced that his appeal hearing had finally been scheduled, and was set to take place from February 28 to March 3.
The UCI’s McQuaid also addressed the new-for-2005 ProTour, which he admitted isn’t a worry-free endeavor.
“I am a little bit nervous about the long-term future of it, yes,” he said. “As you know everybody is not completely behind it. There are certain groups that have taken certain views and are not completely behind it and they can disrupt it as they wish.
“I am very happy with the concept, and you can’t look at in isolation of just the ProTour, but also the continental calendars. I think the continental calendars are going to produce a completely different sport of cycling within 10 years.”
North American update
There were no major changes for the North American contingent during stage 7. Here’s the current overall standing of all nine riders.
6. Michael Barry (Can), Discovery, at 1:44
8. Tom Danielson (USA), Discovery, at 2:02
14. Tony Cruz (USA), Discovery, at 2:27
15. Mark Walters (Can), Navigators, at 2:37
17. Michael Creed (USA), Discovery, at 2:43
33. Patrick McCarty (USA), Discovery, at 3:22
34. Jeff Louder (USA), Navigators, at 3:23
70. Saul Raisin (USA), Credit Agricole, at 4:23
111. Julio Perez (Mex), Ceramica-Panaria, at 8:09
In the team standings Discovery is third at 0:46, while Navigators are fourth at 1:32. South Africa’s Barloworld is No. 1 with a team time of 66:39:34.
The Navigators also got another solid effort from sprinter Oleg Grishkine, who crossed the line in fourth behind Brown, Di Biase and Wiesenhoff’s Steffen Radochla. Grishkine’s Russian teammate Vassili Davidenko crashed within the last 3km and received the same time as the bunch. But Davidenko’s bike wasn’t so luck, as he completely destroyed his front wheel.
Yellow (Overall): Koji Fukushima (Jpn), Bridgestone
Green (Points): Graeme Brown (Aus), Ceramica-Panaria
Polka Dot (KoM): Kristian House (GB), Great Britain National
Blue (Top Asian): Koji Fukushima (Jpn), BridgestoneTop 10 stage
1. Graeme Brown (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) 3hrs 45mins 44secs
2. Moreno Di Biase (Colombia Selle Italia) s/t
3. Steffen Radochla (Weisenhoff) s/t
4. Oleg Grishkinie (Navigators Insurance) s/t
5. Robert Hayles (Great Britain) s/t
6. Guillermo Bongiorno (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) s/t
7. Brett Lancaster (Ceramica Panaria-Navigare) s/t
8. Antonio Bucciero (Acqua Sapone-Adria Mobil) s/t
9. Julian Dean (Credit Agricole) s/t
10. Stefan Van Dijick (Mr Bookmaker.com-SportsTech) s/t.Top 10 riders overall
1. Koji Fukushima (Bridgestone Anchor) 22hrs 11mins 31secs
2. Nathan O’Neill (Navigators Insurance) +1:20s
3. Ryan Cox (Barloworld) +1:22s
4. Jose Rujano (Columbia Selle Italia) +1:36s
5. Tiaan Kannemeyer (Barloworld) +1:41s
6. Michael Barry (Discovery Channel) +1:44s
7. Marlon Perez +Arango (Colombia Selle Italia) +1:48s
8. Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel) +2:02s
9. Fumiyuki Beppu (Discovery Channel) +2:04s
10. Tom Southam (Barloworld) +2:14s
NEXT UP: Stage 8 — Kuala Kubu Bahru to Genting Highlands, 97.9km
After a night’s stay at the posh Awana Hotel halfway up the Genting climb, the riders will face the most daunting day of the Tour, the ascent of Genting.