February 10/99 8:33 am - Canadians 1 and 3 at Langkawi!
Posted by Editor on 02/10/99
Canada Makes the Race
Today Canadian riders were the force of the Tour de Langkawi, taking two podium spots (including Wohlberg's win), the stage team classification, the only King of the Mountain (KOM) sprint, one of three Points Sprints (and finishing third in the other two). Canada jumped from 16th to 9th in the General Classification Team standings, Michael Barry went to 7th overall and Czeslaw Lukaszewicz to 9th, and Dominique Perras moved up one notch in the climbers competition - to 5th. At the same time that all of this was happening, the remaining to members of Team Canada - Andrew Randall and Rodney Henderson - abandoned. All in all, a very eventful day!
Coming into this 8th stage the riders already had 1157.6 kilometres in their legs, with 197 for today's stage. The day before had been relatively quiet, but what would happen today? What happen was that Canadian riders provided the push for some of the most exciting racing to date at this year's Tour of Langkawi. Prior to the start Eric Wohlberg said that today was one of the few chances that Canada had to make a mark before the race went into the mountains. The terrain was similar to the day before, following the eastern coastline from Kuantan to Kuala Terengganu. Wind would play more a factor than the one small category 3 climb that was roughly a third of the way through the stage.
All through the stage the race radio was crackling with reports of Canadians either initiating attacks or chasing them down. It wasn't until the final 40 kilometres, however, that a break had the right combination to make it stick. Lukaszewicz started the crucial break by attacking in a headwind section. As others sprinted across, it quickly became apparent that this group had all the right ingredients. The 18 strong group had 2 Mapei riders (Paolo Lanfranchi and Dirk Muller), the top placed rider from Navigare-Gaerne (Alessandro Petacchi), two Saturns (Michael Barry and Levi Leipheimer), Serguei Ivanov (TVM), two from Acceptcard, Linda McCartney team representation, Canada, Denmark, and a host of other squads. In fact, the big losers were Agro, Mroz and the Australian team. Also among the individual losers were race leader Frank McCormack (Saturn) and Graeme Miller (New Zealand). McCormack lost the jersey by the end of the day, and Miller lost the chance to build on his hold of the points standings.
The wind held off through most of the stage, but it was hot - mid 30s celcius. Hot enough to keep the team vehicles hopping all day with handoffs of fluids to the riders. "God, is it hot" stated Wohlberg, as he made one of many trips back through the caravan to pick up drinks. The heat had the effect of causing the abandonment of more riders than any other stage thus far in the race. Canadian riders Rodney Henderson and Andrew Randall both eventually pulled the plug on their races. Henderson was still suffering the effects of his painful crash from the day before, and was stuck in the ambulance with an I.V. drip after complaining of feeling weak and dizzy.
The early kilometres of the stage saw many attempts to split the pack up, but none of the major teams were happy with the combinations that developed in the breaks, and either shut it down quickly or left the riders out to twist in the wind. The only excitment in the first 75% of the race was for two special money sprints - each worth 5000 ringett (about $2000 Can). Dario Pieri of Navigare-Gaerne took the first one, and Remco Van Der Ven of TVM the second. Dominique Perras made a perfectly timed attack about 4 kilometres before the King of the Mountain points sprint, and held on to take the maximum points.
However, as mentioned previously, the real race began with about 40 kilometres to go when a break of 18 got clear. This break, unlike earlier ones, succeeded instantly, with the time gap growing visibly. The gap went from a minute, to three, to five and a half, and ultimately to nearly 11. A chase group of three managed to limit their losses to 5 minutes, but the general classification was completely changed by the end of the race.
The break worked very smoothly together until approximately 12 kilometres were left in the race. Attacks were happening constantly now, including Lukaszewicz and Wohlberg. Finally, Wohlberg and Kazakstan rider Vadim Kravchenko got a small gap with 5 kilometres left. They were able to build that to 12 seconds, while the big guns back in the break looked at each other. New Zealand rider David Lee jumped with 3 kilometres left, with Michael Barry right on his wheel. Within a kilometre they had joined the front runners, and the gap hovered around 14 seconds.
The finish was rather tricky, with an abrupt right hand turn that led into the finishing straightaway. Wohlberg sat at the back as the others drifted through the turn. "I knew the corner swept around wide here. I didn't want to get pinched between anyone else and a rail." Lee lead out at the beginning of the sprint, but was surpassed by Kravchenko as the sprint began to wind up. Barry struggled with Kravchenko, but was unable to overcome him in the remaining distance, settling for third place. Lukaszewicz came in with the chase group, finishing 7th. Perras was back in the main field, finishing in 66th place.
Race Note: It was rather interesting that the Canadian team did so well the day after I arrived! I was asked constantly what I had done to help them...Team manager Jaques Landry also tells me that I have the shotgun position for as long as I want...
Some Photos are available here.