February 3/02 12:13 pm - Tour de Langkawi STage 3 Story
Posted by Editoress on 02/3/02
Degano Wins Stage but Hunter Holds onto lead at Langkawi
Enrico Degano (Panaria) scored his fifth career stage win in stage 3 of the Tour de Langkawi, but only after a break driven by Andrea Tafi (Mapei-Quick Step) was caught an agonizing 300 meters from the finish line. There was no change to the top of the GC, with Robert Hunter holding (Mapei-Quick Step) onto the yellow jersey for another day, followed by Canadian Eric Wohlberg at 55 seconds.
The 129.6 kilometre stage began in Lumut on the west coast, and head north-east, inland to the city of Ipoh. For the first 50 kilometres it was non-stop attacking, as various combinations tried to get away from the peloton. However, the mix was never just right and, for one reason or another, each group was chased down. Wohlberg powered one group that managed to gain a few seconds, but Mapei was all over that one as they protected the leader's jersey from its closest threat. This kept the speed very high, with 51 kilometres covered in the first hour.
Shortly after the first Intermediate Sprint of the day, two riders went clear, 57 kilometres into the stage. Scott Guyton (iTeamNova.com) initiated the attack, and was joined by Hans De Meester (Palmans-Collstrop). The two were going for the points at the first KoM (King of the Mountain) of the race, and De Meester outsprinted his companion.
However, they had a respectable 1:18 gap, and Tafi decided to try and bridge across. He took 11 others with him, and they hooked up with the front duo at the 73 kilometre mark, with a gap of 1:02 on a chasing peloton, led by AG2R (who had no one in the break).
Tafi, wearing the green Points Leader's jersey, kept the pressure on, and with 45 kilometres to go the gap was up to 1:27, making Tafi the overall leader on the road. Behind, the chase was very hard, with the peloton topping 70 kilometres per hour at times. Panaria, Lotto and AG2R were doing the majority of the work, and the field split at one point, after the second KOM when they had to contend with road construction. Among those temporarily dropped was defending champion Paolo Lanfranchi.
The gap was slowly coming down, to 40 seconds by kilometre 98. Tafi decided that he had had enough of this, and attacked the break, eventually taking 4 others clear with a little less then 25 kilometres remaining. The other riders with Tafi were Alberto Elli (Index Alluminio), Lennie Kristensen (Team Fakta), Alverio Marin (Colombia-Selle Italia) and Rodney Green (South Africa).
As the race wound down, everyone kept waiting for the breakaways to get swallowed up, but it wasn't happening. The time split decreased to 20 seconds, and then Tafi went to the front and took it back up to 32 seconds with 13 kilometres left. With 5 kilometres left the gap was 28 seconds, and it looked like the break might stay away, until Nathan O'Neill (Panaria) went to the front and began to time trial. He brought the gap down to 16 seconds with 2 kilometres left, and then teammate Stefano Guerrini went to the front, joined by Team Canada, since Tafi had enough of a gap to threaten Wohlberg's second place.
This proved to be the nail in the coffin for the breakaways, and they were caught within sight of the line. Panaria's Graeme Brown went to the front, and accelerated so fast that he almost left behind Degano. The two crossed the line 1-2, with a 5 metre gap on third place Mario Traversoni (Mobilvetta Design).
Afterwards, Degano admitted that he was not sure they would catch Tafi's group. "The team worked perfectly for me, but in the final kilometre I did not think we would catch them."
Tafi was bitterly disappointed, since they came so close. "I was convinced that I could do it. I wanted to win this stage, because I am feeling very good right now. Early on, the break was good, everyone was working, but then it dropped to 5 and only a few would help me. The other riders were not convinced that they could win, but when I am in a break I want it to succeed. Now I will have to win tomorrow!"
All Canadians finished with the field except for three: Josh Hall flatted with 10 kilometres to go (losing 3:22), and Andrew Pinfold and Glen Rendall succumbed to the intense heat (35 Celcius) and fell off the pace to finish 8:48 and 14:22 back. Rendall was the final rider to make the time cut, finishing 1:30 inside the limit (10% of the winner's time).
- lots of penalties today for feeding infractions (wrong side of the road, towing a rider while feeding, etc.) Team Canada received 4 penalties - 2 to the manager and one each to Andrew Pinfold and Mark Ernsting.
- Enrico Degano's fifth stage win set a record for most stage wins by an individual rider.
- Francesco Moser was on hand to congratulate a fellow countryman, and mentioned that he rode on the Italian national team with Degano's father back in the 70's. Moser is at the race on behalf of the UCI to report on whether the Tour de Langkawi should be upgraded to a 2.2 for next year. When asked if he would recommend the upgrade he smiled and shrugged, but did say that he thought the race had "good organization". Early bets are that he will recommend upgrading.
- Tomorrow is the first day of serious climbing, and offers an opportunity for Ryder Hesjedal to move up in the rankings. Stage 4 is dominated by a Cat 1 climb called Fraser Hill. It is a long, switchbacking climb, but not particularly steep. The hardest part may actually be the descent, which is very treacherous and narrow. Two years ago, Mark Walters was in yellow on this stage, in the rain. He crashed on the descent but managed to chase back to the front group on the 10 kilometre run-in to the finish.