February 9/02 8:26 am - Langkawi Stage 9 Story
Posted by Editor on 02/9/02
Once again, Genting has proven to be the decisive stage at the Tour de Langkawi, and the race has a new leader. To no one's surprise, the leader is Colombian Hernan Dario Munoz (Colombia-Selle Italia). The leader since stage 1, Robert Hunter (Mapei-Quick Step) surpassed his own expectations to finish 6th on the stage and is second overall, 40 seconds back. Ryder Hesjedal turned in an excellent performance to finish 17th on the stage and is 13th overall, while Dominique Perras (iTeamNova.com) rode to 25th on the stage and moved back into the top-20 at 18th place..
The 133.3 kilometre stage began with the obligatory attacks as teams tried to send someone up the road to start the climb with a gap. The last time it succeeded was three years ago, when Eric Wohlberg was a member of a group that started the climb with a 13 minute gap (all but one rider was still caught before the top).
This year, the attacks (including one with Wohlberg) were unsuccessful until the 50 kilometre mark, when two riders managed to break clear. Lennie Kristensen (Fakta), a former holder of the climbers jersey, and German Nieto Fernandez (Relax-Fuenlabrada) were deemed not to be a serious threat (Fernandez was highest ranked at 14:10). Within 15 kilometres the gap was up to 2 minutes, and by the start of the KoM (approximately 30 kilometres to go) the duo had five and a half minutes.
This was nothing, and when the peloton hit the KoM, they immediately began to eat into the lead. There were no attacks in the early stages of the climb, just a steady ratcheting up of the pace. With 22 kilometres to go, and the gap at 4 minutes, Kristensen dropped Fernandez, while Andrea Tafi (Mapei-Quick Step) attacked the dwindling field.
Tafi's move sent the tempo up another notch, and by the time Kristensen passed the 15 kilometres to go marker, the chase had thinned down to approximately 30 riders, with all the heavy hitters present. Colombia-Selle Italia had made a strategic attack with 18 kilometres remaining, by sending Alveiro Marin off, and he soon caught and dropped Kristensen to move into the lead.
Behind, this meant that Hunter, two-time champion (and Genting winner) Paolo Lanfranchi (Index Alluminio) and other contenders all had to use up their lieutenants in the chase, while second overall Munoz got a free ride.
The situation was perfect for Colombia-Selle Italia: if the other teams didn't chase, Marin was perfectly capable of making up his 7 minute deficit and taking the overall lead. If they did chase, then Munoz got to pick his moment and ride away.
Hesjedal was a member of the front chase group, and sat in comfortably as others dropped off. Hunter's Mapei team was doing a workhorse job at the front of the chase, and Marin was slowly coming back until Munoz made his attack with 8 kilometres to go.
This blew the group apart, and is the point where Hesjedal lost contact.
"It happened in the apex of one of the corners, and went so fast that, that was it." said Hesjedal. "It wasn't long, but the speed was too high for me. Once they settled down, I could see them in front of me for most of the way, and we were going about the same pace, but I couldn't go any harder."
The only rider who could respond to Munoz's attack was South African David George - ex of the U.S. Postal team. Hunter was joined by Lanfranchi, Rene Joergensen (Fakta), Artour Babaitsev (Nurnberger) and Antoni Rizzi (Mobilvetta Design) in the chase, behind Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) and Stive Vermaut (Lotto).
Munoz went past Marin, with George right on his wheel, matching him pedal stroke for pedal stroke, until the final 100 metres when the Colombian showed that he had plenty in reserve by sprinting away on the last steep pitch to the finish line. Marin hung on for third, followed by Le Mevel, Rizzi and then Hunter.
Munoz said that his team performed perfectly. "I was certain that I could make up the time on this climb. I knew that Hunter was racing very well, but we sent a rider out early, and this worked very well for our plan."
Normally, this would be the end of things, as far as the overall classification went, with tomorrow's final criterium stage in downtown Kuala Lumpur a formality. However, the gap is only 40 seconds, and Hunter has shown himself capable of numerous times during this race of getting away in the right breaks to put time on his rivals. Depending upon what sort of shape Mapei is in for tomorrow, we could be in for a very exciting finale.
- Hesjedal put in another excellent performance, on a climb that is rated harder then Alpe d'Huez by many riders. "It was really hard; it definitely lived up to its mystique. No one realizes how hard it is - it's insane. I could see Genting in the mist from the bottom. I thought: 'We're going there - and my heart rate's already 180...'
Eric and Josh kept me at the front, in good position and it slowly started to ramp up and ramp up on the climb. I've done steeper climbs, but this one just kept going and going and going. I couldn't do the acceleration, but I was riding the climb well. There was no physical way that I could have been with that group when they went. Plus, alot of those guys are pure climbers and weigh 130 pounds to my 160."
- The other Canadian riders had steady rides, with Josh Hall saying: "once we had done what we could for Ryder, it was a matter of riding within my capabilities. There was no sense killing myself over 90th place."