Posted by Editor on 02/7/01
Little Change in Stage 2
It was a long slow day in the saddle for the riders in stage 2 of the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia today. As in stage 1, the finish came down to a field sprint, with Jans Koerts of Mercury Viatel retaining his leader's jersey for a another day after finishing second to Enrico Degano (Ceramiche Panaria). Gord Fraser (Mercury Viatel), the stage 1 winner, dropped to third in the overall standings behind Degano due to time bonuses the Italian received for his win.
On paper, the 226 kilometre stage looked like it could blow the race open, with the first of two Category 2 climbs beginning immediately after the start in Gerik. Indeed, the field was aggressive on the first climb, with a number of riders struggling to stay in contact. However, the descent after the climb allowed the pack to regroup for the second, longer climb.
It was on this ascent that the field seemed to go to sleep. Telekom Malaysia sent off Iranian rider Amir Zargari early in the climb, and he was soon followed by Team Malaysia's Seong Hoong Tsen. The two joined forces shortly after the KoM (King of the Mountains) points and quickly began to open a sizable gap on the disinterested peloton, who seemed content to cruise along and enjoy the rainforest.
The lead for the duo reached a maximum of eight and a half minutes before the top teams decided enough was enough and began to reel them in with 80 kilometres to go. From dawdling at 20 kilometres per hour, the pace went to 60 kph as teams began launching attacks left and right. Ultimately, none of the break attempts would suceed, but they did doom the pair up the road, who were brought back within 10 kilometres, after 116 kilometres off the front.
Once they were caught, the tempo did not slow, as attacks were launched continuously, with Mapei-Quick Step, Saeco, CSC World Online and Team Canada particularly active. Mercury Viatel did a good job of covering everything, and it looked like things were going to set up for another Mercury Viatel train at the finish.
Unfortunately for Mercury's plans, Mapei had no intention of a repeat of the day before. With 15 kilometres to go a trio of riders broke away - Harm Jansen (Saturn), Juan Flecha Giannoni (Colchon Relax) and Elio Aggiano (Mapei-Quick Step). They were brought back with 5 kilometres to go, but it was an indication that Mercury Viatel would not able to set things up completely to their liking. "We started the train" said Koerts, "but Mapei kept attacking us and messing it up. So, we decided to back off." Unfortunately, Mapei didn't seem to have an alternative plan, so it was every rider for himself as the riders galloped down the finishing straight.
Degano appeared to have a lock on the win, until Koerts came flying up on the right, going faster than anyone else. However, Koerts appeared to hesitate at the line, and Degano hung on for the win.
Afterwards, Koerts hinted that Degano had crowded him. "I think the guy who won cut me off a little. I was coming up but then I had to touch my brakes (to avoid him)." Koerts' second place increased his overall lead to 7 seconds ahead of Degano and 11 seconds over his team mate Fraser. Given that there are really no mountains appearing until stage 8 (February 14th), Koerts' time in the yellow appears to be limited only by his team's interest in expending the effort to keep the field together for field sprint.
- all Canadians finished in the field, except for Min Van Velzen, who dropped off with about a kilometre to go. Team manager Jacque Landry pointed out that Van Velzen is still recovering from the heat stroke he suffered in yesterday's incredibly hot stage. "Everyone is riding well. We are staying with the pack, trying a few attacks. I'm really happy with their performance."
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