Posted by Editor on 02/2/02
Hunter Extends Lead at Langkawi
Mapei's Robert Hunter made it two-for-two today in the second stage of the Tour de Langkawi, winning a field sprint after 183.5 kilometres in impressive style to solidify his lead atop the standings. Canada's Eric Wohlberg also moved up in the standings - from third to second - after former second place Nathan O'Neill (Panaria) broke his wheel with about 3 kilometres to go, losing valuable time and dropping to 6th in the overall standings.
The stage from Klang, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, to Sitiawan further north on the west coast, developed according to expectations, with a break of 4 going away 10 kilometres into the race. Canada's Josh Hall was one of the four in the break, along with Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole), Trent Wilson (iTeamNova.com) and Rodney Green (South Africa). Mapei was content to let things go, so the lead grew quickly, reaching a maximum of 12 minutes at the 100 kilometre mark.
"We were just following moves", explained Hall. "We knew something would go, and I happen to be the one in that move. You know it is more then likely to get caught, and everyone figured that even with a 12 minute gap it would come back.
The headwind made it really hard, so no one was working too much. The South African guy (Green) and myself were doing most of the work, and (Le Mevel) was slowing us down when he went to the front."
However, Hall was correct in his assessment: Mapei decided that it was time to start reeling in the breakaways shortly after 100 kilometres had been completed and it began to drop, with the break swept up just before the final Intermediate Sprint of the day at 9 kilometres to go.
The sprinters' teams then began to up the pace and jockey for position as the race entered the final 10 kilometres. Hunter told his teammates "we needed to control things in the last 10 kilometres, and give it another good heave in the last kilometre."
His team did indeed do that, and was helped by misfortune to O'Neill, who broke spokes in his front wheel after tangling with somebody with about 3 kilometres to go. O'Neill's teammates stopped to help him, taking them out of the sprint.
The sprint came down to a 250 metre gallop after a sharp left, and Andrea Tafi set his teammate Hunter up to perfection. "Andrea came up to me before the last corner and took me to the line." said Hunter. "He took us into the corner 1-2 and then led me until 150 metres, when I went off the front."
Hunter had a sizable gap with 50 metres to go, and sat up at that point. However, a quick look over his shoulder saw Antonio Salomone (Index Alluminio) and Tafi bearing down on him, so the South African gave a few more pedal strokes to cement his victory.
All Canadian riders finished in the peleton.
- Wohlberg was the biggest beneficiary of O'Neill's mishap, moving into second, 55 seconds behind Hunter. Ryder Hesjedal also benefited when Eddy Serri (Index Alluminio) lost time, and the Victoria rider moved into 20th. Other Canadian standings include Dominique Perras (iTeamNova.com) in 59th, Josh Hall in 80th, Mark Ernsting 91st, Geoff Kabush 93rd, Andrew Pinfold 96th and Glen Rendall 129th.
- the Canadian team will continue with its policy of trying to get riders into breaks - both in the hopes that they will develop into something that is successful, and as good experience and training for the riders as they prepare for the season. Eric Wohlberg recognizes that he is a marked man, "I'll be watched, but it gives a chance for the other boys to try stuff. This is early season for us, so we don't want to really mix it up in the sprints."
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