Muar-Johor Bahru (175.2km)
By Neal Rogers
Italian sprinter Ivan Quaranta (Formaggi Pinzolo) won the first fieldsprint of the Tour de Langkawi Wednesday, following a pancake-flat 175kmstretch from Muar to Johor Bahru, Malaysia’s portal to neighboring Singapore.Two South Americans — Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini (Lampre) and ArgentineanRuben Bongiorno (Panaria) filled out the top-three; Canadian Gord Fraserwas fourth.
It was Quaranta’s fifth stage win at the Tour de Langkawi in three yearsof competing, and perhaps a big step in erasing the memory of the flashysprinter’s being dropped from his Saeco team time trial squad during the2003 Vuelta a España’s opening stage.
While the peloton came into Johor Bahru compact, it wasn’t that wayfor much of the hot, sunny day. At 24km a group of 15 riders went clear;represented were members of Japan, South Africa, Chocolade-Jacques, De-Nardi,Pagcor-Casino Filipino, Health Net, Formaggi-Pinzolo, Canada, Lampre, Barlowordand Panaria.
The highest ranked rider in the break was Belgian Dave Bruylandts (Chocolade-Jacques),1:57 down on Colombia-Selle Italia’s race leader Marlon Perez. With Relax-Bodysol’sHector Guerra Garcia second overall, 32 seconds down, the two teams hadincentive to chase, and spent much of the day doing just that even afterBruylandts dropped back to the pack.
The breakaway’s gap extended to one-minute by 61km, and reached a maximumof 2:32 at 79km. But one by one riders that couldn’t hold the pace wereshed from the break, and after the group went through the day’s third intermediatesprint it split further, with seven riders dropped, including Health Net’sMike Sayers. Just three riders remained: Alejandro Alberto Borrajo (Panaria),Alessandro Cortinovis (Lampre) and Dominique Perras (Canada).
The trio’s lead hovered around one-minute for roughly 10km, but lackedthe necessary horsepower and was swallowed up with 25km remaining.
Another group of three had a go with 20km remaining, made up of AlexandreLavallee (Canada), Shinichi Fukushima (Japan) and Philip Deignan (Ireland),but with the sprinters teams now going full-bore, it was never able tohold more than 15 seconds advantage and was reabsorbed with 5km to go.
Coming into the finishing straight Quaranta played his cards perfectly.“I used Fraser as a lead-out man,” he smiled. As for Fraser, he could onlyshake his head.
“The Canadian team had it lined up pretty good, with Roland Green andEric Wohlberg, for Charles Dionne,” Fraser said, “and when they ran outof gas two [De-Nardi-]Colpack riders hit it with 400 meters to go, and I was forcedto close that gap to the Colpacks. At that moment, that was the momentto go, and I was gassed. I hesitated just a little bit, and that’s whenIvan [Quaranta] and [Luciano] Pagliarini had the momentum on me. They timedit right.”
Fraser can take comfort in his firm hold over the blue points jersey,but it hasn’t come without a price. Health Net’s Brice Jones went downin a pileup 20km in on the day; although he finished the stage, he spentnearly 25km chasing to rejoin the peloton, and after the race requiredfive stitches in his arm. Health Net team director Jeff Corbett said Jonesis also a badly bruised tailbone.
To make matters worse, Fraser’s main lead-out man, Greg Henderson, hada plastic bag caught in his wheel with 7km remaining. After a moment ofeffort he and Sayers swapped bikes, but the pair, joined by teammates DannyPate and Scott Moninger, weren’t able to rejoin the peloton and finishedmore than three minutes down on the day; Health Net’s top GC rider, JohnLieswyn, finished safely with the bunch.
“It was hell day,” commented Health Net team director Jeff Corbett,and Fraser agreed. “It was a tough day for Health Net,” Fraser said. “Wehad a really hard day.”
Race Notes:Host country Malaysia also had a rough day, as two riders from the Malaysian National squad, along with the team manager, were disqualified for pacing behind the team’s vehicle.Noticeably absent from the top-10 was Panaria’s Graeme Brown; the 2003 points jersey winner finished 40th and is out of the running for this year’s competition.Second-placed GC rider Guerra Garcia had a scare when his front tire punctured with 15km to go, but his entire Relax team dropped back and ushered him back to the pack.Colombia-Selle Italia spent much of the day at the front, driving the chase – no easy task for a team renowned for its climbers. “We had to ride really hard, and it was actually quite a difficult day for us,” said Ruber Marin. “Hopefully we can keep on defending the jersey for the next two days [of flat stages, before Saturday’s steep climb to Genting Highlands].Jersey Update:
Yellow (Overall leader):Colombia-Selle Italia’s Marlon Perez remains in the leader’s jersey, 32 seconds ahead of Relax-Bodysol’s Hector Guerra Garcia and 42 seconds in front of teammate Freddy Gonzalez.
Blue (Points): With 57 points to Perez’s 36 and Guerra Garcia’s31 — and 15 points awarded to each day’s stage winner, Fraser has the pointsjersey locked up.
Polka Dot (KOM): Perez also leads this competition with 31 points,but as he’s wearing yellow, his teammate Ruber Marin, 28 points, dons theclimber’s jersey.
White, Red and Blue (Top Asian rider): Iran’s Ghader Mizbanicontinues to wear the jersey he was awarded after his impressive climbingduring stage 2’s ascent into the Cameron Highlands. Mizbani sits 17th overall,2:45 down but tied with North Americans John Lieswyn (Health Net) and RolandGreen (Canadian National). When asked if he’d considered racing in Europeor the United States, the 28-year-old replied that he would like to, buthasn’t yet been offered any contracts.
2. Colombia Selle-Italia, at 1:38
3. Relax-Bodysol, at 3:25
4. Canadian National, at 8:16
5. Lampre, at 8:20
A look ahead: Stage 7
After a short transfer, riders prepare themselves for another long stage from this new host venue of Pontian to Melaka. It will indeed be a tough ride as riders will have to face a strong headwind along the way. Teamwork is the key word and riders with the strongest determination, team and power will rule the day.