Posted by Editor on 02/14/01
The mountains have spoken and the Tour de Langkawi has a new leader - Paolo Bettini (Mapei-Quick Step). Bettini finished third in the front group of four, behind his team mate Paolo Lanfranchi and Pascal Herve (Alexia Alluminio), and ahead of American Chris Wherry (Mercury Viatel). The riders faced 154 kilometres on stage 8 from Kuala Kubu Baru to Tanah Rata, climbing 2000 metres over the final 53 kilometres.
There were a few attempts to get away before the climb, but Mapei and Mercury quickly brought them back, so that at the start of the first KoM (King of the Mountain) the peloton was together. Word came down to the race that it was raining further up the climb, and riders first met wet roads, and then intermittent driving rain. Both of these combined to make the twisting road very slippery and caused a number of crashes. The first major casualty was defending champion Chris Horner (Mercury Viatel), who went down in a crash and finished nearly 16 minutes back.
The pace was high from the beginning of the climb, with numerous attempts to break away. None were ultimately successful, but they did keep the pace high and thinned the ranks of the contenders. Yellow jersey holder Jans Koerts (Mercury Viatel) was part of the main peloton that was dropped 15 kilometres into the climb, when approximately 25 riders got away. A few kilometres later Mapei sent Davide Bramati away to keep the pressure on, and his lead reached a maximum of 49 seconds on the rapidly disintegrating chase group. Bettini and Lanfranchi were in this group for Mapei, Wherry and Niklas Axelsson for Mercury. Of course, Herve was there, as was Soren Petersen and Matt Decanio for Saturn, and Walter Beneteau for Bonjour.
Bramati was finally brought back with 9 kilometres remaining. After a brief secession of hostilities, Mapei went on the attack again, this time with Bettini as the instigator. Bettini was brought back and then Herve countered, taking Lanfranchi with him. The pair were chased by down by Bettini, who took Wherry with him, catching the front runners with 500 metres remaining.
"Herve attacked 3 or 4 times", stated Lanfranchi. "I was lucky for the finish, in the last corner I was on the right side and there was no room or time after that for anyone to get by me. Mapei's goal today was to have at least two in the front and we succeeded."
They certainly did, taking the stage, the yellow jersey, the climber's jersey (Lanfranchi) and now leading the team classification. Bettini leads his team mate by 18 seconds on GC, with Herve at 26 seconds and Wherry at 42. Saturn's Petersen is 8th, 1:08 down. Former leader Koerts drops to 74th, 15:10 off the pace. Koerts does, however, take the green sprint jersey, ahead of Bettini and Ivan Quaranta (Alexia Alluminio).
Tomorrow, expect another upheaval in the standings as the riders tackle the even more difficult Genting Highlands stage. Race leader Bettini is hesitant to predict victory: "Tomorrow we will have to see, because Genting is a much different climb than today. Today suited me very well."
- Alexandre Usov (Gerolsteiner) who went down the crash yesterday and did not finish the stage was given permission to rejoin the race today. It didn't do him much good, however, he finished 137th - 19:41 down.
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