Mercury loses out to clock
By Rob Jones, VeloNews correspondent
Paolo Lanfranchi (Mapei-Quick Step) was the substitute rider for an ill Andrea Tafi at the Tour de Langkawi. So far this ‘substitute’ has won both mountain stages and taken the yellow leaders jersey from team mate Paolo Bettini. Meanwhile, Mercury miscalculated big time by not paying attention to the time cutoff and losing Jans Koerts, Gord Fraser and Henk Vogels.
The Genting Highlands stage – this year stage 9 – is legendary. After a 107 kilometer run up the riders face a 25 kilometer Hors Category climb that averages 8 percent and max’s out at over 15percent. In the past, riders such as Lanfranchi have rated it as hard or harder than Alp d’Huez. This year was no different.
Mapei and Mercury smothered early breakaway attempts until kilometer 16 when a group of 18 went clear. In the group were 4 Mapei riders and green jersey holder Koerts. The front group reached a maximum of 3 minutes before the peloton began to chase. Some riders began dropping back, including Koerts, but four attacked the front with 54 kilometers to go – Davide Bramati and Rinaldo Nocentini for Mapei, Emanuele Negrini (Cantina Tollo) and Corrado Serina (Alexia Alluminio).
By the start of the climb Negrini had been dropped and Bramati was gone, but the leading duo was now three and a half minutes up. The peloton was upping the pace, and shedding riders as the road tilted upwards.
Among the first to go were the sprinters – Koerts, Fraser, Vogels, and Enrico Degano (Ceramiche Panaria). This bunch would cruise across the finish line 2:45 outside of the time limit (12% of the winners time).
Meanwhile, Nocentini had attacked Serina and quickly established a gap of nearly 4 minutes on the peloton with 15 kilometers to go. Mapei was clearly in the drivers seat: if no one chased then Nocentini took the leaders jersey; if the other teams chased then Mapei’s Lanfranchi and Bettini got a free ride.
“We were not attacking because Nocentini was ahead and well placed on GC. So we didn’t have to make a decision or work too hard.” explained Lanfranchi.
This is exactly what happened, with Pascal Herve (Alexia Alluminio), Chris Wherry and Niklas Axelsson (Mercury Viatel) and Paolo Bertoglio (Ceramiche Panaria) leading the chase. The gap gradually dropped as the chasers shed more and more riders. Eventually it was just Lanfranchi and Bertoglio, and they made contact with Nocentini with 6 kilometers remaining, dropping him immediately. Behind, Bettini was chasing on his own, with Wherry, Herve and Jorg Ludewig (Saeco Macchine Caffe) further back.
Lanfranchi dropped Bertoglio with 4 kilometers to go and easily motored up the final climb to win by 49 seconds. Bettini soloed in a further 46 seconds back, followed by Wherry and Herve at 2:29. Lanfranchi’s win gives him a 1:23 cushion over Bettini, with Bertoglio at 2:12. Wherry, after two stellar rides in the mountains, sits fifth overall, 3:03 back.
Tomorrow the riders have a 26 kilometer time trial, followed the next day by a 162 kilometer road stage and finally a criterium in Kuala Lumpur. None of these stages has climbing over 50 meters, so the general classification looks pretty much set at the top.
Race Notes: Today’s stage was so fast and hard that only 115 riders will start tomorrow One-hundred-and-thirty-six began today’s stage.