Posted by Editoress on 02/8/04
Stage 3 of the Tour de Langkawi turned the standings completely around, with every category of leader's jerseys changing hands. Marlon Perez lost his yellow jersey to Colombia-Selle Italia team mate Freddy Gonzalez after a crash, and Gord Fraser (Health Net) took over the Points Jersey when he finished second in the stage. However, the hero of the day was Australian Brett Lancaster (Ceramiche-Panaria), who stayed away for 135 kilometres to take the stage win.
The third stage, 171 kilometres from Tapah to Raub, included a Category 1 climb and a treacherous descent to the finish. The last time this climb was used was in 2001, when Canadian Mark Walters was in the yellow jersey. It rained on the climb and descent, making a twisty, narrow course even worse. This time was no different.
The race began in extreme heat, but that didn't slow down the pace, with attacks beginning almost immediately after the end of the neutral section. Nothing would stick until the 36 kilometre mark, when Lancaster and Scott Guyton (Wismilak) jumped away. Within 6 kilometres their lead was up to two minutes, and maxed out at 10:20 after 102 kilometres of racing. It started to drop after that, and Lancaster dropped his breakaway companion halfway up the climb to continue on solo.
"Scott used to be a team mate of mine two years ago. Almost as a joke, I said to him ' lets go off for a long one'. He buried himself for me until halfway up the climb, when I had to say ' I'm going to have to go mate'. "
Lancaster did go indeed, despite horrendous weather that blew up on the climb - it had been hot and sunny until then. A thunderstorm moved in, making what Roland Green described "epic" conditions. The majority of the contenders rode as a group, not too worried about Lancaster (he started the day 20 minutes down on the GC). The rain was so hard it was difficult to see on the climb, and the descent, hard even in dry conditions, became almost impossible.
"It was terrifying" said Eric Wohlberg. "It's always nice to go down descents where you can't see and your brakes don't work."
Green echoed Wohlberg's comments. "The lightning cracked so close at one point I was sure that we were going to get hit. Everything fragmented as people made their own way down."
The yellow jersey crashed on one metal bridge, and backed off, but his team mate Gonzalez didn't know: "I came over the top of the climb on the wheel of a Relax rider. He was very fast on the descent and I just followed him down. I didn't know what had happened behind until I was caught by my team mate. At that point all I could do was go on and try to protect the jersey for our team."
Fraser was another one who descended quickly, and joined the developing chase group, that was closing in on Lancaster. At the end, the Australian crossed the finish line a scant 33 seconds in front of Fraser, who led home a long straggling line of survivors. The points he took, combined with the ones he gained earlier in the stage in intermediate sprints, were enough to put him in the points jersey. Fraser actually started to raise his arms in victory at the line, before he realized that Lancaster had already finished.
"I wasn't sure if I could take the jersey, but once Scott and Brett had gone up the road I took the other points available and just tried for the maximum points at the end. Now that I have the jersey, I can concentrate on getting a stage win to go with it, although our main goal will be to defend the jersey to the end of the race."
Tomorrow the race continues with a 148 kilometre stage which features three ranked climbs - a Cat. 2, a Cat. 3 and a Cat. 4.
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