Posted by Editor on 02/4/02
Tour de Langkawi - Stage 4: Hunter still in Yellow
Robert Hunter (Mapei-Quick Step) is proving to be as good a climber as he is a time trialist and a sprinter, finishing second in the 4th stage - the first stage of climbing. Hunter was a member of a 15 rider breakaway that dropped the peloton on the Fraser Hill climb in this 176 kilometre stage from Tapah to Betong. The only rider to make the break was Dominique Perras (iTeamNova.com), who vaulted into 12th place in the overall classification, just behind Eric Wohlberg (Team Canada), who dropped from 2nd place.
The stage was dominated by the 21 kilometre climb up Fraser Hill. While the ascent is difficult, it is not a real climbers climb, which Hunter acknowledged. "I could go up with the front of the race today because these are the type of climbs I can do well."
The race began slowly and, as expected, a series of breaks attempted to get away, with one lone rider - Koji Fukushima of Japan - finally being allowed to build up a significant gap after go clear on his own at the 25 kilometre mark. Within 10 kilometres the lead was nearly 4 minutes, and growing quickly.
Mark Ernsting (Team Canada) took up the chase at the 42 kilometre point. Initially he was joined by 4 other riders, who dropped back, leaving Ernsting to soldier on by himself. The peloton seemed to have no interest in catching these two breakaways, and by the base of the climb, at the 102 kilometre mark, Fukushima was 3:38 in front of Ernsting and 10 minutes clear of the peloton.
Ernsting began to fade on the climb, while Fukushima continued to ride strongly. Ernsting was caught by a small chase group 7 kilometres into the climb, and then dropped, eventually going straight through the back of the main group to finish 18:44 - the second last rider to make the time cut.
Behind Fukushima, there was a steady tempo being set but, according to Eric Wohlberg, nothing too intense. "We had a plan to follow Tafi (Mapei) and (Paolo) Lanfranchi (Index Alexia Alluminio), since they looked to be the main guys for their teams. We executed the plan really well, but about two thirds of the way up a move formed with the yellow jersey.
The break didn't happen as an attack, it just rolled away in twos and threes, and we had Geoff (Kabush) setting tempo pretty good along with Lanfranchi's team, so we crested the top only 30 seconds back. By the time we hit the bottom we had lost some time, but I figured Alexia would be able to bring it back.
I guess we all misjudged the strength of Alexia, because the break dialed it up and we couldn't get any closer then about a minute-seventeen before it went back up. Ryder (Hesjedal), Geoff and I had no problem with the pace, we just didn't follow the right move."
At the front the break was working very smoothly, and eventually finished 2:05 in front of the main peloton. Hunter looked on track to take his third stage win of the race, but was foiled by Mobilvetta Design's Moreno DiBiase.
"It didn't go quite as good as I had hoped." said Hunter. "Coming into the last bend, Wong Kam Po (Telekom Malaysia) jumped and this gave the opportunity for DiBiase to get on his wheel, which forced me to go wider and longer."
>From the finish line it looked like a straight drag race for the last 100 metres, with DiBiase having just that little bit extra kick.
The break rearranged the top of the overall standings considerably, with Wohlberg dropping to 11th, just ahead of Perras, who moved up from 57th. Ryder Hesjedal dropped from 20th to 27th.
The race now has 4 days of relatively flat stages, before the traditional race-deciding climbing to Genting Highlands takes place next Saturday.
- All Canadians finished, but Hall, Pinfold, Rendall and Ernsting all lost significant amounts of time. After stage 3, Pinfold and Rendall were so dehydrated they had to be put on IVs to replenish fluids for today's stage.
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