Neo Pro Andrea Guardini wins opening stage at Tour de Langkawi

Andrea Guardini gets his pro career off to a good start. Andrea Guardini probably could not have hoped for a better start to his professional career as he scored an impressive sprint win in the opening stage of the Tour de Langkawi on Sunday. The 21-year-old Farnese Vini-Neri Sotttoli rider…

2011 Tour de Langkawi Stage 1
Andrea Guardini gets his pro career off to a good start.

Andrea Guardini probably could not have hoped for a better start to his professional career as he scored an impressive sprint win in the opening stage of the Tour de Langkawi on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Farnese Vini-Neri Sotttoli rider beat Park Sungbaek (Korean National) and Mohd Harrif Salleh (Terengganu ProAsia Cycling) to the line at Kuah on Langkawi Island, winning his first-ever professional race.

His compatriot Luca Barla (Androni Giocattoli) and Dutchman Kenny Van Hummel (Skil Shimano) were best of the Europeans in fourth and fifth respectively, while Hilton Clarke (United Healthcare) was first of the Australians.

“My director sportif Luca Scinto believes very much in me. He has had some very good words for me. I hope to continue this way and meet his expectations in terms of being a big sprinter,” said a smiling Guardini at the post-race press conference.

The young rider was told during the interviews that another Italian, Alessandro Petacchi, took the first of his many career victories in the race. He seemed happy with the inference that he too could have a very successful career.

“I am happy to hear that and I hope to follow the path,” he said. “If I only win half the races that he won, I will be happy.”

Second place on the 94.3 kilometer stage went to the Korean rider Park, who said that he was satisfied while also regretting a little not going one place better.

“I am very happy with second place. I was in the top ten several times [in the past] but this is my first time in second place so I am very happy,” the leader of the Asian classification said. “I believed at first that I could win but will try to repeat this again in the coming days.”

Although the stage finished up in a big bunch gallop, it was one which was enlivened by several breaks. Koen de Kort was one of the most active riders, picking up second on the fourth category climb of Pantai Kok and then going clear in a big group later on. He used this as a springboard to take top points on the day’s third ascent, Bukit Malut, and thus end the day wearing the red jersey of the leader of the King of the Mountains.

“I tried to do a really impressive race,” he said afterwards. “We have a good sprinter in Kenny Van Hummel, so it wasn’t necessary for us to have a breakaway go. But I have been training really hard and can use this race to show that I have put in the work.”

Langkawi offers a tropical start to the early season.
Langkawi offers a tropical start to the early season.

De Kort said that at one point he through the group was going to stay clear, but that ultimately the amount of riders in the break worked against the efficiency of the move.”I think the group was a bit too big. We didn’t really work well enough together, so it got brought back with just a couple of kilometers to go,” he said. “Unfortunately I was a bit tired at the finish, and couldn’t really help Kenny [Van Hummel]. I think he got fourth [actually fifth].”

He promised that the team would try again tomorrow to win a stage, and that he would aim to continue building mountains points. He wants to get a buffer before the tough climbs of the Cameron Highlands on Wednesday and Genting Highlands on Thursday, knowing that they will be tough.

“I don’t really know where I stand on the long climbs. I have been training a bit on the climbs, but I think these are a little bit had for me,” “But who knows, anyway I can just get a couple more points in there [beforehand].”

He’s motivated but one who is even more focussed is Guardini. He had a dream pro debut victory today and will want to try to follow that up with another win over the next few days. His finishing speed on day one suggests he’ll be right up there in the battle of the sprints, and his confidence is on a high.

So too the Asian riders, who beat their more experienced European rivals today in netting second and third place on the stage. The strong 2010 showing looks set to be continued in the days ahead.

Attacks from the gun

Riders roll off the line for stage 1 at the Tour de Langkawi
Riders roll off the line for stage 1 at the Tour de Langkawi

A total of 137 riders lined out for the start of the 2011 Tour de Langkawi, with 2009 race runner-up Jai Crawford being prevented from starting due to a delay in his UCI registration. It was a hot, humid, cloudless day on the stunning Langkawi island and the riders would have an extremely quick 94.3 kilometer race.

The attacks started almost straight away and many different riders and teams tried to get a move to go clear. Things were relatively controlled until after the intermediate sprint at Taman Awam Teluk Yu (km 20.4), which was taken by last year’s points winner Anuar Manan (Terengganu ProAsia Cycling) ahead of Christoff Van Heerden (MTN Qhubeka) and Chan Jae Jang (Korea).

Soon afterwards, Guillaume Le Floch (Europcar), Koen de Kort (Skil-Shimano) and Mehdi Sohrabi (Tabriz Petrochemical) managed to break the elastic and briefly head the race. The bunch was too intent on controlling things, though, and they were reeled in.

Benjamin Gourgue (Landbouwkrediet) was next to try and also got clear, albeit briefly. Mehdi Sohrabi (Tabriz Petrochemical), Koen De Kort (Skil Shimano ) and Takeaki Ayabe (Aisan Racing) took the first three placings on the category three Pantai Kok climb (km 35.9). A total of 47 kilometers was covered in the first hour of racing.

Manan was best again in the intermediate sprint at Padang Mat Sirat, pipping Van Heerden again and consigning Salleh to third place. A break of ten riders then clipped away very soon afterwards and opened up a solid lead over the peloton.

The riders present were Jonnatha Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli), Paolo Locatelli (Colnago CSF INOX Pro), David Veilleux (Europcar), Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano ), Puchong Sai-Udomsin (Terengganu ProAsia Cycling), Guillaume Bourgeois (Team Champion System), Mohd Salleh Mohd Razif (Le Tua ), Kirk Carlsen (Chipotle Development), Andrei Krasilnikau (Chipotle Development) and Bradley Potgieter (MTN Qhubeka).

Krasilnikau, Sai Udomsin and Locatelli took the next King of the Mountains prime at Kuala Muda, cresting the summit 51.7 kilometers after the start of the race and just 32.4 from the finish. The break remained clear until after the third and final intermediate sprint (Pantai Cenang, km 61.2), where Carlsen beat Bourgeois and Mohd Razif to the top points.

2011 Tour de Langkawi Stage 1
Andrea Guardini takes the sprint and the leader's jersey.

An even bigger move went away after their recapture, with 22 riders combining to try their luck. That group included Gianluca Mirenda (Farnese Vini – Neri Sotttoli), Takashi Miyazawa (Farnese Vini – Neri Sotttoli), Alessandro De Marchi (Androni Giocattoli), Antonio Santoro (Androni Giocattoli), Omar Lombardi (Colnago CSF INOX Pro), Damien Gaudin (Team Europcar), Karl Menzies (United Healthcare Pro Cycling), Boy Van Poppel (United Healthcare Pro Cycling), Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano ), Hossein Askari (Tabriz Petrochemical), Markus Eibegger (Tabriz Petrochemical), David Pell (Drapac Professional Cycling), Othman M. Adiq (Drapac Professional Cycling), Alex Coutts (Giant Kenda Pro ), Jaan Kirsipuu (Team Champion System), Wang Yip Tang (Team Champion System), Kenichi Suzuki (Aisan Racing), Libardo Nino Corredor (Le Tua ) and Alex Howes (Chipotle Development).

They combined together and raced towards the day’s final climb, the category four Bukit Malut (km 71.9). De Kort had taken second in the first King of the Mountains prime and was determined to try to grab the first red jersey of the race. He accelerated towards the top of the climb and took the four points on offer, with Adiq and Mirenda netting second and third.

With 15 kilometers remaining, the break had an advantage of just 33 seconds and the cooperation was breaking down. De Kort and six others pushed onwards, holding off the peloton until inside five kilometers to go. The sprinters’ teams were too determined, though, and nothing could prevent a big bunch gallop into Kuah.

Guardini showed his speed to grab his first professional victory in what is his first pro race. Hitting the line ahead of Park Sungbaek (Korea National), Mohd Harrif Salleh (Terengganu ProAsia Cycling) and a host of very quick European sprinters is a great sign for the young rider. It also earned him the first yellow jersey of the race and a very memorable day in the peloton during Monday’s 145.4 kilometer race from Kangar to Butterworth.