Posted by Editor on 02/6/04
Tour de Langkawi Stage 1 - Malaysia
The Tour de Langkawi got underway today with a 112 kilometre stage from the island of Penang to the town of Taiping on the mainland. Unfortunately, confusion among the traffic authorities on the finishing circuit led to the road being opened to traffic early, and the stage had to be neutralized. All riders were given the same finishing time.
The stage had little to liven it up, with the exception of three Sprint bonuses. Yongbiao Zhu of China broke away at the 12 kilometre mark and quickly gained 30 seconds. He was joined by Merculio Ramos of the new Philipine professional squad Pagcor-Casino Filipino at the 19 kilometre point, and the two riders began to work steadily in front of a relatively disinterested peloton.
The two leaders reached a maximum gap of just over 5 minutes by the 45 kilometre mark. Three chasers set off in pursuit, but did not catch the leaders. Ramos and Zhu took all three of the Sprints (Zhu the first, and Ramos the second and third), and the time bonuses they offered. This became significant at the end of the day, when they were used to determine who would wear the yellow leader's jersey... Ramos got the nod, with his two Sprint wins, with Zhu donning the Sprinters Jersey and one of the earlier chasers, Ramos' team mate Lloyd Lucien Reynante, wearing the Best Asian Rider jersey.
Until the problems with the traffic, the race unfolded as expected, with the breakaway caught at the 10 kilometre to go point. The sprinters' teams were setting up for the gallop to the line Ã‹â€ a tricky, narrow finish, with a couple of turns in the last kilometer. However, things did not exactly go as planned, when the riders came upon a traffic jam in the middle of the circuit.
"My impression was that someone thought that the race just went one lap, and they let the traffic on", said Gord Fraser (Health Net) afterwards. "There was traffic everywhere, and with such a twisty run-in there was no way we could race it."
The riders decided not to contest the sprint, and coasted across the line in a bunch. The officials and race organization decided to neutralize the results, due to the problem.
"It looked to me like one of the Italians made the first gesture (to not contest the sprint), but it was pretty much universal." said Fraser. "There wasn't much else we could do. It was unfortunate because we had been riding at the front for the last 6 or 7 kilometres, setting up for the sprint, but it was also good practice for the team. I feel bad for the Formaggi guys, because they had been setting tempo all day."
- "The riders were very gentlemanly about the situation" said race director Alan Rushton. "It was an unfortunate situation, but we just have to move on for the rest of the week of racing."
- Team Canada took it fairly easy for the day, just staying out of the way of potential crashes. "We were just hanging out, just trying to stay out of trouble" said Roland Green. "I was suffering a bit on the flats, in the heat, because I haven't raced yet this year, but that's the thing about stage races - it gradually starts to come around, day after day."
- Jose Rujano, the young climbing star from the Colombia-Selle Italia team, has not recovered well from the training accident earlier in the week when he injured his knee, and abandoned today.
- The Tour de Langkawi heads into its first day of climbing tomorrow, with a 151.6 kilometre stage from Ipoh to Tanah Rata, in the Cameron Highlands. The stage starts at 57 metres above sea level, and ends at 1471 metres. However, the course is not as tough as the profile might suggest, and the top riders are not expected to have any problems.
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