Italy’s Alberto Loddo (Selle Italia-Serramenti) provided a sizzling start to the 12th edition of the Le Tour de Langkawi when he charged to the line to claim the first stage on a day when Malaysia’s first continental team, LeTua Cycling, grabbed two top-10 slots in the overall classification Friday.
Loddo, a sprinter from the Selle Italia-Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni team, kept his cool in the blistering conditions and waited for his chance to make his move. A winner of a stage win in Venezuela this year, Loddo broke loose a kilometer from the end to take the checkered flag just ahead of former stage winner, Ruben Bongiorno.
The victory for Loddo represents a strong start for the small Italian team that has picked up numerous stage in the Le Tour de Langkawi over the years. This includes the titles picked up by Hernan Dario Munoz (2002) and Freddy Gonzalez (2004).
“I was convinced that today would end in a bunch finish. I did not have the strength to stay with the leaders so I remained in about the 20th position. With about one kilometer to go, I made my move. I found Bongiorno and came out of his wheel with 150 meters to go,” said a jubilant Loddo.
The victory was especially sweet for Loddo as it was his way of repaying the faith of his team manager, Gianni Savio.
“I was out of contract in 2005 but Gianni gave me the opportunity to be with Selle Italia. I got six wins last year and with two already this year, I think it’s a good start,” Loddo said.
Rolling in hot on the heels of Loddo today were Bongiorno, a multiple stage winner in this race and his Ceramiche Panaria teammate, Maximiliano Richeze.
While Loddo claimed the stage, it was Japanese ace Koji Fukushima who stole the hearts of the locals with a smashing performance during the race and a quirky rendition of a Japanese video-game tune.
Fukushima, a stage winner here and regular participant in this race, broke away just two kilometers into the race, but the peloton shut down the effort quckly. The Nippon-Meitan Hompo rider attacked again at 17-kilometers, this time with Herwin Jaya from Polygon and gained a maximum lead of 2 minutes and 15 seconds. They remained ahead for 50km.
With 20km to go, Fukushima’s lead was steadily reducing and he was caught at 12km. Thomas Voeckler made a significant attach at the 5km mark but was rejoined by the peloton 600-meters from the end.
Despite being caught, Fukushima went on to take all three sprints and one climb to wrest the King of the Mountain and Asian jerseys. “I knew it was going to be difficult today. I broke away but was afraid to be caught, and that’s what happened … I lost my lead. I will stick to my normal game plan and attack early.”
The second stage will be start in the northern town of Kangar and end 166km later in Kulim.
The Le Tour de Langkawi 2007 is organized by the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) with the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Tourism.