By Rob Jones, VeloNews Correspondent
Defending champion Mercury-Viatel has picked up where it left off last year at the Tour de Langkawi, with Gord Fraser winning the first stage and teammate Jans Koerts taking the yellow leader’s jersey.
The 182km stage along the northeast coast of Malaysia was the first chance many of the riders have had to race this season, and expectations that it would be a slow race with a fast finish were realized as the peloton rolled along with no attacks for the first 100km. The intense heat and humidity also put a damper on ambitions, with the temperature topping 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees F) for much of the day, under a baking sun.
The first few tentative efforts to stir things up quickly fizzled when Mercury-Viatel, Mapei-Quick Step and others jumped on them immediately, and the stage turned into a procession to the final sprint, livened up with a few intermediate points sprints and series of crashes (one caused by a cow on the course).
Mercury-Viatel sent its new Dutch signing Koerts to the front for the first two (of three sprints), and besides the points he garnered, the 3-second time bonuses awarded made him the leader on the road. “We talked about our plan last night, and it was for me to go for the sprints. They [other riders] were scared off after I took the first two sprints. I sat out the final [intermediate] sprint so that I would be fresh for the leadout at the end.”
In the final few kilometers the Mercury train went to work, increasing the pace constantly with Chris Horner, Scott Moninger, Chris Wherry and Henk Vogels winding things up for Koerts and Fraser as the field took two quick lefts before hitting the final straightaway.
“It was perfection”, said Fraser. “I couldn’t have asked for a better leadout. Jans took me to 100 meters and I was able to bring it home.” Fraser also admitted that the win was especially satisfying after his unusual drought at Langkawi last year. “It was frustrating last year – second three times, third three times. This is better.”
However, Koerts’ stay in the jersey is likely to be short – tomorrow the riders face 226km with two Cat. 2 climbs, and sprinters like Fraser and Koerts are unlikely to be in the front group.
– After stage 1 Mercury-Viatel holds all the same jerseys it held at the conclusion of the race last year – leader’s, points (Koerts also) and team classification.
– Saturn put Harm Jansen in 5th place for the stage and 6th on G.C.
Stage 1 – Alor Setar to Sungai Petani 182 km
1. Gord Fraser (Can), Mercury Viatel 4:49:49
2. Jans Koerts (Nl), Mercury Viatel s.t.
3. Enrico Degano (I), Ceramiche Panaria s.t.
4. Ivan Quaranta (I), Alexia Alluminio s.t.
5. Harm Jansen (Nl), Saturn at 0:02
6. Paolo Bettini (I), Mapei-Quick Step s.t.
7. Elio Aggiano (I), Mapei-Quick Step s.t.
8. Massimiliano (I), Saeco Macchine Caffe 0:05
9. Makoto Iijima (Jpn), Japan National s.t.
10. Saulius Ruskys (Lit), Team Gerolsteiner s.t.
14. Chris Horner (USA), Mercury Viatel s.t.
21. Niklas Axelsson (Swe), Mercury Viatel s.t.
31. Scott Moninger (USA), Mercury Viatel 0:11
32. Chris Wherry (USA), Mercury Viatel 0:15
39. Henk Vogels (Aus), Mercury Viatel 0:18
41. Mark Walters (Can), Team Canada s.t.
43. Trent Klasna (USA), Saturn s.t.
62. Jacob Erker (Can), Team Canada s.t.
64. Matthew Decanio (USA), Saturn s.t.
66. Cory Lange (Can), Team Canada s.t.
107. Andrew Randell (Can), Team Canada s.t.
108. Min Van Velzen (Can), Team Canada s.t.
109. Svein Tuft (Can), Team Canada s.t.
110. Greg Seiniewicz (Can), Team Canada s.t.
130. Frank McCormack (USA), Saturn s.t.
131. Michael Barry (Can), Saturn s.t.
132. Soren Petersen (Den), Saturn s.t.
164. Christopher Fisher (USA), Saturn 5:46
1. Koerts, 4:49:37
2. Fraser, at 0:02
3. Degano, at 0:08
4. Bettini, at 0:09
5. Quaranta, at 0:12
6. Jansen, at 0:14
7. Aggiano, s.t.
8. Alexandre Usov (Blr), Phonak 0:15
9. Ruskys, 0:16
10. Graeme Miller (NZ), Telekom Malaysia, at 0:16
16. Horner, at 0:17
22. Axelsson, s.t.
31. Moninger, at 0:23
33. Wherry, at 0:27
39. Vogels, at 0:30
41. Walters, s.t.
43. Klasna, s.t.
62. Erker, s.t.
64. Decanio, s.t.
66. Lange, s.t.
92. Randell, 0:39
92. Van Velzen, s.t.
92. Tuft, s.t.
92. Seiniewicz, s.t.
92. McCormack, s.t.
92. Barry, s.t.
92. Petersen, s.t.
164. Fisher, 5:58