February 7/02 7:54 am - Langkawi Stage 7 Story
Posted by Editor on 02/7/02
The scuttlebutt prior to the start of stage 7 at the Tour de Langkawi was that this longest stage of the race (196.7 kilometres) would be "easy", since everyone wanted to rest up after some hard, fast stages (and with Genting approaching). Well, it started out that way, but Mapei threw down with 70 kilometres to go, thinning out the list of remaining contenders.
Moreno Di Biase (Mobilvetta Design) took his second stage of the Tour in the reduced field sprint, outkicking Daniele Galli (Alexia Alluminio) and the ever-present yellow jersey, Robert Hunter (Mapei-Quick Step), but the story of the day was the split in the peloton. Canada had mixed success, with one of its contenders, Ryder Hesjedal, making the cut, and one not - Dominique Perras (iTeamNova.com).
The day began slowly, with the relentless heat augmented by a dry, gusting crosswind. There were a few half-hearted efforts to get away in the early kilometres, but it was not until 45 kilometres into the race that anything stuck. Three riders went clear at this point, quickly moving 30 seconds ahead of the disinterested field.
Yan Tournier (Credit Agricole), Cesare Di Cintio and Jorg Petersen (Team Fakta) stalled at about 1:30 for nearly 30 kilometres before the Mapei-led peloton backed off. Their lead grew rapidly after this, to 7:18 by the time Mapei finally decided enough was enough and began to charge after them.
The Mapei effort came as the race headed through a section of rolling, open hills - a palm oil plantation laid fallow. With no trees to break the wind, it was brutal under the sun if you weren't protected, and the split within the field opened quickly, with 55 riders managing to make the cut to the front chase group.
Hesjedal and his teammates Eric Wohlberg and Josh Hall did make the cut, while Dominique Perras had the bad luck to be at the back of the peloton dealing with mechanical problems.
"It was unbelievable bad luck.", said a visibly exhausted and discouraged Perras after the stage. "About 3 kilometres before (the Mapei surge) I had to switch to a spare bike because my bottom bracket was coming loose. I was at the back waiting for them to fix my bike, and that's when it happened. That was it, they were gone. We chased, and so did Selle Italia, but it was just too fast. Plus, there were about 20 team cars in our way."
The gap grew slowly but surely between the two groups, and Mapei redoubled their efforts when they found out that climbers Perras, his teammate Allan Iacuone (5th on GC), Colombian Ruber Alveiro Marin (Colombia-Selle Italia, 7th GC) and Wong Kam-Po (Telekom Malaysia, 18th GC) were some of the riders who had missed the boat. Riders who didn't miss out included the yellow, green and blue (top Asian) jerseys, and 16 of the top 20 in the overall classification.
Canada's most experienced rider, Wohlberg, was ready for the break when it happened. "We were anticipating a big split in the crosswind, so we stayed near the front and protected Ryder.
I guess Mapei got tired of setting tempo and threw down into the crosswind at 65 kilometres per hour. Josh and I were just trying to protect Ryder. He's the guy we have to keep fresh for Genting."
Hesjedal sang the praises of his two guardians: "It was hard today, I was just trying to stay on wheels and avoid getting too far back. I had more problems at the beginning, when we were going tempo. Once we actually started to move I was more comfortable.
These guys have been riding awesome for me - taking me to the front, sheltering me, bringing me food and water. I happen to be the GC rider now, so they are doing everything to take care of me."
The chase group rolled up the 3 leaders with 47 kilometres to go and continued to put time on the second peloton, who appeared to lose heart after keeping the gap to a minute for nearly 25 kilometres of racing. In the last 40 kilometres the split increased rapidly, topping out at 4 minutes. Hunter led out the final sprint, possibly too early, since Di Biase and Galli were both able to easily come around him at the line.
The end result of the day was Dominique Perras dropping to 21st, 7:25 back, and Hesjedal moving up to 12th, 4:41 down on the yellow jersey. Other Canadian standings are Wohlberg in 30th (18:25), Josh Hall 94th (33:48) and Glen Rendall 136th (1:10:33). Geoff Kabush did not start - his chest infection finally forcing him to call it quits.
Tomorrow the stage is fairly short - 95.5 kilometres - giving the riders a bit of a break before the legendary Genting Highlands stage on Saturday probably determines the overall winner. Hesjedal looks strong for a top-10 standing at this point, since a couple of the riders in front of him are non-climbers, and could go considerably higher, depending upon the kind of climb he and others have.