Posted by Editor on 02/8/02
The shortest stage of the Tour de Langkawi proved to be the fastest as well, with an average speed of 48.63 kilometres per hour. Antonio Salomone (Alexia Alluminio) took his second win of the race ahead of Andris Nauduzs (Colombia-Selle Italia) and Andrea Tafi (Mapei-Quick Step), although Tafi was later relegated for sprinting irregularities - meaning he threw his elbows around a lot. All Canadians finished safely in the bunch.
The 95.5 kilometre 8th stage from Port Dickson to Petaling Jaya is probably the final stage that Robert Hunter (Mapei-Quick Step) will be in the yellow. Tomorrow is the Genting climb, and Hunter has already said the the climb is much too difficult for his style of riding.
Mapei purposely kept the pace high to discourage breakaways, and it was effective. It wasn't until the 36 kilometre mark that two riders were able to get more then a few seconds. Mario Aerts and Kurt Van Lancker gained 20 seconds relatively quickly, but probably wouldn't have gotten much further if Tafi hadn't jumped up to join them. Once Tafi came on board the gap went up to 38 seconds, but it was ultimately doomed when the peloton increased its pace to 65 kilometres per hour.
The peloton regrouped with 50 kilometres to go and another attack was launched, this time by Benoit Poilvet (Credit Agricole) and Stive Vermaut (Lotto). Vermaut was the closest thing to a threat that had gone up the road, since he was sitting in 14th, 5:18 back. Mapei began to chase, but then the yellow jersey punctured, sending the team to the back of the pack to bring him back on.
The puncture allowed the two things to happen. First, the breakaways increased their lead to 1:42 in the slowdown that occurred after Hunter's flat. Second, other teams then went to the front and upped the speed, forcing Mapei to chase hard. Alexia Alluminio, Mobilvetta Design and Panaria all went to front, but Mapei quickly brought Hunter back.
Once back at the front of the field, Mapei began reeling in the breakaways, and everything was together again by the time the peloton passed the 20 kilometre to go marker. The attacks continued in the closing kilometres, with Eric Wohlberg featuring in the most serious effort at 15 kilometres to go. An eight rider group managed to gain 10 seconds before Mapei redoubled their efforts and brought everything together.
The final kilometre left no margin for error, with riders facing a roundabout and then a sharp left hand turn 150 meters before the finish line. Mapei was working to set up Tafi for his first stage victory, while Panaria was positioning stage 6 victor Geoff Brown. It turned out to be for naught, as Brown pulled his foot out in the corner, while Tafi could not hold off the late charging Salomone and Nauduzs.
Tafi's aggressive riding not only got him relegated, but also lost him the Points Jersey, since Lubor Tesar (Nurnberger) moved into fourth for the stage and gained enough points to take over the green jersey. In reality, both riders have been keeping it warm for Hunter, who will take it over if he loses the yellow tomorrow as expected.
- Eric Wohlberg flatted during one of the fastest periods, and had to chase back up at 65 kilometres an hour; it took him 6 kilometres to get back on.
- Ryder Hesjedal is still feeling in good shape. "I had no problems today, I was just trying to do as little as possible. When it accelerated I could go with it, no problem. The team was good again, protecting me, sheltering me from the wind. I'm as prepared as I can be, but it is hard to say for tomorrow, we'll have to see."
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