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Posted by Editoress on 02/12/04
Gord Fraser came within an inch of taking the stage win today, in the seventh stage of the Tour de Langkawi, just getting overtaken at the line by Luciano Pagliarini (Lampre). A crash in the final kilometre and a half took down approximately 10 riders at the back of the peloton, when they hit a policeman, but no Canadians were involved. Fraser's second place, plus the HotSpot sprint points he took during the stage, give him a virtually unassailable lead in the Points Competition.
The 167 kilometre stage from Pontian to Melaka started quickly, with a group of five riders immediately breaking away, including Cory Lange of Team Canada. The group also contained Johan Van Summeren (Relax Bodysol), who was only 3:13 back from race leader Marlon Perez (Colombia-Selle Italia), so the Colombians reacted quickly to bring it back. Multiple other attempts met with no further success until kilometre 24, when a group of seven riders opened up a gap. Peter Wedge was in this group, which managed to slowly open up the gap to 1:12 after 14 kilometres of hard work in strong, gusty cross and headwinds. However, Palmans-Collstrop came to the front to help Selle Italia, and by the 54 kilometre mark the peloton was all together again.
One kilometre later Japanese national champion Shinichi Fukushimi broke away in a solo effort. After nearly 50 kilometres of riding alone Fukushima had carved out a 2:20 lead, which he held for another 15 kilometres, before a chase group of four began to reel him in, followed closely by the peloton, led by Selle Italia and Formaggi Pinzolo Piave. The gap began to drop quickly at this point, down to one minute after 125 kilometres of racing, and 70 kilometres of solo effort by Fukushima.
The chase group was brought back with 40 kilometres remaining in the stage, but Fukushima amazingly began to increase his lead again - up to nearly a minute and a half with 20 kilometres to go. However, Fukushima was beginning to tire, and the gap dropped to 45 seconds with 15 kilometres remaining, and 20 seconds with 10 kilometres to go. Five kilometres later Fukushima was finally back in the peloton after over 105 kilometres on his own.
The sprinters' teams began to set up for the finish, which was made more difficult by the strong headwinds the riders were facing. Chocolade Jacques and Health Net went to the front initially, and then Panaria moved up with three kilometres to go. They appeared to have Graeme Brown set up nicely for the finish, but a strong gust from the right caused him to sag in the last 150 metres, and Fraser came by on one side, with Pagliarini on the other. It was a drag race to the line, and Pagliarini proved to be slightly faster.
"The main problem was the strong headwind, which makes it difficult for any team to control things, and burns the guys up very quickly. At the finish I was overrun by Graeme, which turned out to be a good thing with the wind because I could key off him. Unfortunately, Pagliarini was keying off me as well. When you lose by that close a margin it is obviously disappointing, but I was just beat by a faster guy today."
The Tour continues tomorrow with a short transition stage from Port Dickson to Shah Alam, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, before the race-deciding ninth stage climb to the Genting Highlands on Saturday.
- The finish was particularly tricky, with a sharp swing around a roundabout with three kilometres to go, and then the road narrowed from four lanes to two, which is where the policeman was hit as he was directing riders.
- Dominique Perras was unlucky enough to be hit with a 16 Swiss France fine for "unseemly behaviour" - he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and was seen by the commissaires (see the photo).
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