February 8/06 3:51 am - Tour of Langkawi: Navigators Stage 6 Report
Posted by Editor on 02/8/06
Tour of Langkawi: Navigators Report
Stage 6: Shah Alam to Tampin 178.7 km
Following the brutal stage 5 climb to the Genting Highlands Resort (yesterday, February 7th), the Tour of Langkawi continues with the next two stages being the longest of the Tour. After a 90 minute transfer from the heights of Genting back to the KL satellite city of Shah Alam, today's stage featured 179 km of racing, following a 9 km neutral start, giving the riders nearly 190km on the bike.
The first attack came immediately as the front riders crossed the official race start banner, and the first 20 km were a series of one break away after another. With Credit Agricole, Navigators, Ag2r, and Japan represented in nearly every attempt, David George's South Africa Team forced the pace, and kept all escapes in check, until an 8 man group went clear at about 20 km. Ireland's David McCann of Giant Asia was one of the strong men, along with Ag2r's Laurent Mangel. Bernard Van Ulden represented Navigators Insurance, and the leaders worked well to build a 1 1⁄2 minute lead going into the day's first KOM at 39km. The 3 km climb would be innocent enough on another day, but with the top five riders on GC still battling, the pace in the field was torrid. South Africa was hammered by an aggressive assault by CA, and three of their riders fell off the pace. At the top of the climb, the gap was down to just over 1 minute, and McCann had gone on solo, leaving his breakaway companions behind. The field continued the high-speed chase, with many riders dropped and in small groups behind ... and then came the 2nd KOM!
Nine kilometers of steady, twisting ascent led to the day's second and final KOM at 55 km. The pace seemed to increase all the way up the serpentine road, and by the summit, the field was in four distinct groups. Panaria's Ruben Bongiorno was one of the last riders to drop from the yellow jersey group, but he battled hard and, with the aid of his teammates who dropped back to keep their sprinter in the fold, managed to work his way back to the main field. With all of the other sprinters already dropped, Panaria now had a vested interest in working for a field sprint, and this would be a major reprieve for the now plundered South African team.
Eight riders had escaped, including two GC threats - Relax's Jose Elias Galinda, 7th at 4:40, and Massimo Ianetti, 17th, but over 10 minutes back. Galinda was a genuine threat having been very active in every stage, and seemingly very capable of creating opportunities to pick off valuable seconds, and even minutes. The yellow jersey group contained 49 riders, with 40 more in the third group on the road. With the climbs behind them, and the potential for another sprinting stage victory, Panaria put the team to the front along with Cox and Lill from South Africa. The leaders were just over a minute ahead, with 100 km to go, but they were rolling well, and the controlled chase behind them was giving up seconds at every km mark. When the gap rolled out to almost 3 minutes, Galinda had theoretically moved into 2nd place on the road, and it was starting to look like Panaria might not have the suds to close the deal.
Meanwhile, the third group had not lost its incentive, and with about 50 km to go, they caught the Yellow Jersey group, bringing George a few more of his teammates. This also brought the points leader, Steffen Radochla, and his Wiesenhof Akud team, almost all of whom were in the chasing group, back into the race. George's lads went straight to the front, but they were already pretty well stuffed, and although they put in a game effort, the gap was clearly not going to come back. With just over 20 km to go, and the gap at 2:40, The Navigators put into the chase, immediately taking the pace up. A very strong Selle Italia team quickly joined them, and the field went straight to the gutter.
With 10 km to go, the gap was under 2 minutes, and the speed was intense. Riders were again getting dropped, and it looked like the sprinters might have their day after all. With 5 km to go, the gap was 40 seconds, and Wiesenhof was positioned directly behind the chase. But neither Selle Italia nor Navigators had a sprinter in the mix, both teams had spent a lot of energy, and the gap was now comfortable enough, so the pace eased up just a bit. Wiesenhof was in perfect position to jump in and finish the deal, but they chose to wait, happy to play for a 9th place sprint. Finally the Green jerseys of the German team hit the front with just less than 2 km to go.
In the front group, McCann gave it a go with just over 1 km, but Japan's Shinichi Fukushima bridged the gap with the cagey Mangel in tow. The Frenchman countered with just 500km to go, and held on to finish in front of LPR's Gene Bates, and Le Boulanger of Bouyges Telecom. The field sped in 11 seconds later, keeping GC relatively intact.