Tour de Langkawi: Andrea Guardini takes his twelfth victory at last on short, fast stage seven
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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tour de Langkawi: Andrea Guardini takes his twelfth victory at last on short, fast stage seven

by Ben Atkins at 3:07 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results, Tour de Langkawi
Astana sprinter extends his race record on the Malaysian east coast

andrea guardiniAndrea Guardini (Astana) at last managed to extend his outright record for stage victories in the Tour de Langkawi with a fast sprint at the end of the seventh stage, between Kuantan and Dungun. The Italian, who won five stages in the 2011 race and six in 2012, was led into the final 200 metres by his turquoise teammates, and managed to reach the line just ahead of stage four winner Francesco Chicchi (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia).

Just behind the two Italians, in third place, was Lithuanian Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEdge), reaching the third step of the podium for the third time in the 2013 race.

It’s better thinking that this is one first victory for the Astana team. It is my first stage here with this team; it’s a powerful team, larger, and I’m very, very happy to make my first victory of the year for this team.

“It was hard in the final five kilometres, because it was so straight, but there is the wind from the sea,” Guardini explained, in English, after the stage. “We kept in a left position, my teammates Bazayev and Tleubayev kept me covered from the wind, and at 500 metres Tleubayev took me to the wheel of Allan Davis [Orica-GreenEdge] and Kruopis, and I started my sprint at 200 metres; on the left side, covered from the wind.”

The victory was not only Guardini’s first of the season, but also his first since the previous summer.

“It is so, so really good,” he said, “because I won last year in Qinghai Lake, in July, and so many months without winning is not so simple for a sprinter; especially for me. From the start of the season, I [rode] two hard races. In Australia - Down Under - it was a difficult race, because my condition was not at the top, and in Qatar, my condition had gone up, but not so really good for winning.

“In Langkawi it is the perfect moment because, after 12 days of racing, my condition is so, so good from the start.”

The 149.8km stage along the east coast of Malaysia was dominated by a two-man breakaway from Travis Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar). Both had been part of the stage-winning move the previous day, and Meyer had been on a long solo move the day before, but they managed to open up a lead of seven minutes in the first hour.

With too many teams in the peloton hoping for a sprint finish, however, the two fugitives were steadily reeled in by the combined efforts of Astana, Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Vini Fantini-Selle Italia; they were caught after they sat up with just under 40km remaining.

From that point on the sprinters teams kept the pace high at the front of the peloton and - although there were light winds blowing from the riders’ right hand side - the bunch was intact as it arrived in the finishing straight, where Guardini was the fastest.

It was a relatively relaxed day for overall race leader Julian Arredondo (Nippo-De Rosa), who was happy to allow the two riders to escape up the road. He finished safely in the peloton and, although Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) stole a bonus second at the final intermediate sprint of the day, still led the Dutchman by 1’15” with three stages to go.

“It was an easier stage for me than yesterday,” said Arredondo afterwards, “because we were able to control the breakaway with my teammates, and we arrived here in Dungun exactly as we wanted.

“We were never concerned about the breakaway riders, as we knew that they were too far down on GC,” he added. “We were never worried.”

The race returns to a more conventional break and chase for the short dash up the coast

After the unpredictable finish of the previous day, the shorter seventh stage was to be a more standard affair, with an attack being allowed to get away, before being chased down by the sprinters’ teams. The relatively short leg up the coast of the South China Sea was hit by several short showers, rather than the sustained heavy rain that fell on the closing kilometres of the previous day.

The opening kilometres were subject to the usual frantic volley of attacks, as usual, before Meyer and Gautier managed to get clear after 15km. The duo was originally a trio, with the presence of Yashaharu Nakajima (Aisan), but the Japanese rider was unable to keep up and was forced to drop back to the peloton.

With Arradondo’s Nippo-De Rosa team riding tempo on the front of the peloton, the two fugitives began to open up their advantage. At the 38km point they were seven minutes clear, but with Gautier trailing by just 11’55” overall, in 27th place, they were not allowed any more time.

At the first sprint, in Chukai after 50km, the gap had been almost halved, to just 3’35”, and it continued to come down over the two 4th category climbs of the stage. Across the top of the second, in Kijal with 66km to go, it was just 1’50” as Omega Pharma-Quick Step took up position at the front of the peloton.

It was Meyer’s third straight day out in front of the peloton, but the Australian quickly saw that it would be futile to try to hold off the teams in the peloton that were so determined for the stage to end in a sprint.

“I do feel pretty good actually, but today the bunch didn’t want to give us much space at all,” Meyer told VeloNation at the finish. “I wasn’t overly sure what they were thinking to be honest; two guys, and they bring us back to two minutes and hold us there, when we’re riding pretty hard…

“So we had no choice. We basically just tried to play with them and stop, and hopefully they’d just sit up and have a bit of a break and let us go back out again. But they never gave us more than two minutes, after they brought it back a bit.

“Two guys aren’t going to ride away from a bunch when it’s like that,” he reasoned, “so we just had to stop.”

The break realises it’s not going to be allowed to stay away and sits up

Astana and Vini Fantini-Selle Italia took over the peloton again, allowing the two leaders to chip out a few seconds. Knowing that they were to get no more freedom from the peloton, however, Meyer and Gautier eased off their pace and allowed the gap to close further.

The two riders were faced with holding off the combined forces of several teams but, even had there been more of them, Meyer doubted that the peloton could be kept at bay.

“I don’t think it would have made a lot more difference, to be honest,” he said. “It just depends if the bunch wants to give you more time; but today they didn’t want to give us anything. With 80km to go we had two minutes, and two guys aren’t going to be able to ride that tempo for 80km, so we made the decision - the both of us - just to sit up and hopefully they’d stop as well and let us ride back out again; but no, they didn’t let us do that.

At the second sprint of the day, in Kerteh with 42km to go, Meyer and Gautier had just 50 seconds left and, just a few kilometres later, they sat up completely and were finally swallowed up by the peloton.

“It’s understandable, I know they want to win the stage, but the way they played it was a bit strange, because if you leave us at that sort of gap, we’re not stupid so we’re not just going to keep riding our guts out for nothing,” Meyer commented.

“So then they brought us back with such a long way to go, it opens up the opportunity for attacks, and they’re just lucky that no team attacked after that.”

With the break over, Astana and Vini Fantini-Selle Italia resumed control of the peloton, keeping the pace high to prevent any further attacks. There was a burst of activity at the third and final intermediate sprint, in Paka with 27km to go as overall contenders Weening and Peter Stetina (Garmin-Sharp) battled for the bonus seconds; Weening took third - behind Anuar Manan (Synergy-Baku) and Mauro Richeze (Nippo-De Rosa), who was protecting his team leader - with Stetina taking fourth and missing the bonuses.

Inside the final 15km the blue, white and black jerseys of Blanco moved up; bringing sprinter Graeme Brown forward to bid for the team’s fourth stage victory. The Dutch team was joined by Orica-GreenEdge, which was trying to lead Kruopis to his first.

As the peloton hit the coast road with just over five kilometres to go Blanco and Orica-GreenEdge were joined at the front by Astana, Vini Fantini-Selle Italia and Omega Pharma-Quick Step, with no one team able to take full control.

Orica-GreenEdge led the sprint into the finishing straight, but Guardini was lurking behind the Australian team and came around to record his first victory for his new team.

Result stage 7
1. Andrea Guardini (Ita) Team Astana
2. Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Vini Fantini-Selle
3. Aidis Kruopis (Ltu) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Allan Davis (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
5. Andy Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
6. Steele Von Hoff (Aus) Garmin-Sharp
7. Graeme Brown (Aus) Blanco Pro Cycling
8. Bryan Coquard (Fra) Team Europcar
9. Taiji Nishitani (Jpn) Aisan Racing Team
10. Rico Rogers (NZl) Synergy-Baku Cycling Project

Standings after stage 7
1. Julian Arredondo (Col) Team Nippo-De Rosa
2. Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge @ 1’15”
3. Sergio Pardilla (Spa) MTN-Qhubeka @ 2’10”
4. Peter Stetina (USA) Garmin-Sharp @ 2’32”
5. Wang Meiyin (Chn) Hengxiang Cycling Team @ 2’40”
6. Nathan Haas (Aus) Garmin-Sharp @ 2’48”
7. Fortunato Baliani (Ita) Team Nippo-De Rosa @ 2’49”
8. John Ebsen (Den) Synergy-Baku Cycling Project @ 2’55”
9. Tsgabu Grmay (Eth) MTN-Qhubeka @ 2’58”
10. Amir Kolahdozhagh (Iri) Tabriz Petrochemical Team


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