Posted by Editor on 02/1/02
South African takes Lead, Wohlberg Third
South African Robert Hunter (Mapei-Quick Step) pulled off a late race upset to take the first stage 20.3 kilometre time trial at the Tour de Langkawi, and the yellow leader's jersey. Canadian Eric Wohlberg beat his own expectations to finish third, 45 seconds behind Hunter and 2 seconds behind second place Nathan O'Neill (Ceramiche Panaria). A second strong Canadian performance was turned in by mountain bike pro Ryder Hesjedal, finishing in 21st place.
So unexpected and dramatic was Hunter's victory over favoured O'Neill, that Panaria lodged a complaint, stating that for Hunter to have gone from 8 seconds ahead at the halfway point to 43 seconds ahead by the finish there must have been pacing involved. However, after viewing the video footage of Hunter's ride, the commissaires declared themselves satisfied with the South African's performance.
"To be honest, I wasn't expecting to win here; I knew that I could do top-5 but this was an unexpected surprise." Hunter, a stage winner in last year's Vuelta (Tour of Spain) couldn't point to any one factor that influenced his stellar ride, except for "confidence. When I have a good ride I always seem to come into it with a quiet confidence in my abilities on the road."
The circuit, around the new town of Putrajaya, home to the Malaysian Parliament buildings, was a tough one, with lots of corners and multiple short, steep climbs. Factor in a strong wind and temperatures in the 30's Celcius, and many riders were wilting halfway into the race.
David Gracia Canada (Mapei-Quick Step), threw down the first strong time of 25:49, however, Wohlberg came storming through nearly 7 seconds up a short time later. It took 20 riders before O'Neill dislodged him.
"I'm happy with third. This is the first time I have really gone hard for a couple of months. I was groveling for sure out there, but I stayed on top of the gear (53x12 and 53x11). I had picked O'Neill to win, so I'm happy to be so close to him. Hunter took close to a minute out of both of us, and I didn't save a thing, so for this time of year that is really good."
Andrea Tafi (Mapei-Quick Step) flatted about 8 kilometres into the race and, although he had been mentioned as a favourite coming into the stage, he never would have challenged anyway since he finished 1:11 behind - good enough for 6th place.
Ryder Hesjedal, in his first international stage race of this calibre, finished two minutes down on the winner, despite still trying to adapt to the aerodynamic position required by time trialling.
"This is definitely the big ball of wax, but it was fun, I was really looking forward to trying it. My goal was to just go out and try and keep it smooth. I'm still working on the position - it's hard for a big guy like me to be leaned over, and it's not something that I have trained for a lot. I wasn't going to go too, too out of control; just take it as it comes, gets some experience and see what it's all about."
Hesjedal's result was doubly impressive, since you had to go down to 49th place to find a finisher younger than he is.
Other Canadian results include Dominique Perras (inTeamnova.com - 61st), Josh Hall (89th), Mark Ernsting (93rd), Geoff Kabush (95th), Andrew Pinfold (97th) and Glen Rendall (132nd).
Tomorrow the riders face a 183.5 kilometre stage from Klang to Sitiawan - a flat run along the west coast north from the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. This stage and the following one are expected to end in mass sprints, before the climbing starts in stage 4.
- The top three places were by Commonwealth country riders, meaning that it looks like we are in for some strong rides at the Commonwealth Games.
- Graeme Miller (Telekom Malaysia) was one of a number riders who missed one of the many turns and went off course. Although Miller missed the time cut, he was reinstated and all 151 riders will start tomorrow.
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