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For the fourth time in his career, Guardini emerged as the fastest in the big bunch sprint in the Kuala Lumpur at the Tour de Langkawi, holding off Palini and van Rensburg; Lopez retained the lead

Photo: Le Tour de Langkawi 2016

ANDREA GUARDINI

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ANDREA PALINI

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ASTANA QAZAQSTAN TEAM

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MIGUEL ANGEL LOPEZ

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REINARDT JANSE VAN RENSBURG

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TOUR DE LANGKAWI

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28.02.2016 @ 13:24 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Andrea Guardini (Astana) became the first rider to reach the number of 20 stage victories at Le Tour de Langkawi – out of 37 in total in his six-year long pro career at the age of 26 – as he claimed the sprinters’ queen stage at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, making it four out of four on the race’s most prestigious venue. The Italian was in a class of his own in the bunch sprint while Andrea Palini (Skydive) and Reinardt van Rensburg (Dimension Data) were a distant second and third respectively. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) last a bit of his advantage but is still the overall leader.

 

Andrea Guardini has been the dominant sprinter of the Tour de Langkawi and with a total of 20 stage wins, he has won all over Malaysia. However, one place has a special place in his heart: the capital of Kuala Lumpur where he had won on his previous three occasions before the race returned to the city in today’s fifth stage of the 2016 edition of the race.

 

Already a few days ago, Guardini had made it clear that it was his big goal to make it four in a row in the Malaysian capital whose big boulevard sprint is tailor-made to a pure sprinter like the Italian. After two near-misses in the previous sprint, he made no mistake in his preferred finish and was in a class of his own when it all came down to the expected bunch sprint.

 

It had been a very fast stage that had been hard to control for the peloton but they seemed to have the situation under control when they hit the final climb with 25km to go. At that point, Meiyin Wang (Hengxiang), Mazuki Amirul (Terengganu) and Loh Sea Keong (Malaysia) were the survivors of a 6-rider breakaway.

 

Wang beat Loh and Amirul in the third KOM sprint but the escapees were losing ground as Drapac were now lending Astana a hand. After 132km of racing, the gap had been reduced to just 35 seconds and it was now Adrien Niyonshuti (Dimension Data) sharing the work with Astana and Drapac.

 

The small gap created some aggression and the ONE GC riders John Ebsen and Richard Handley managed to bridge the gap to the three leaders. They worked well together to maintain a 30-second advantage but the chase was gaining momentum as Southeast was now the fourth team working on the front.

 

With 10km to go, Wang was dropped from the breakaway and three kilometres later, Amirul was the next to give up. Loh, Ebsen and Handley pressed on but their advantage was down to 12 seconds.

 

With 5km to go, it was over for the trio as Drapac hit the front to organize the lead-out. They were passed by Dimension Data who took control as they entered the final 2km.

 

The South African team stayed on the front with two riders until Drapac again came to the fore just before the flamme rouge. That’s when Tinkoff launched their train as Evgeni Petrov dopped Michael Gogl, Michael Kolar and Erik Baska off in the first three positions.

 

Gogl and Kolar did the lead-out for Baska who was followed by Brenton Jones (Drapac), Reinardt van Rensburg, the Androni pair of Marco Benfatto and Francesco Chicchi and Guardini. The latter launched an early sprint and had already passed Baska when the Slovakian started his effort. From there, the outcome was never in doubt and he had time to celebrate his fourth win in Kuala Lumpur before Andrea Palini made a strong finish to pip van Rensburg on the line and take second place.

 

Miguel Angel Lopez finished safely in the bunch but as van Rensburg picked up a total of 6 bonus seconds in the first intermediate sprint and at the finish, he saw his advantage over the South African being reduced from 29 to 23 seconds.

 

He now faces the toughest stage of the remaining part of the race on Monday when the riders will tackled a lumpy route with four categorized climbs. The final category 3 climb comes just 7.8km from the finish and leads to a downhill run to the line, meaning that it could be a day for a reduced bunch sprint or a successful breakaway.

 

A flat stage

After the queen stage, the sprinters were expected to be back in action on stage 5 which brought the riders over 148.8km from Tapah to the big finish in the capital of Kuala Lumpur. There was an early category 4 climb and two category 4 climb in the second half, with the final one coming just 22.1km from the finish, but otherwise the roads were completely flat and a bunch sprint was expected.

 

It was another hot and sunny day when the 1125 remaining riders in the race signed in for the big stage to Kuala Lumpur. It may have looked like a day for the sprinters but most of the peloton was eager to prevent the predicted outcome and so the start was very fast.

 

Bonus seconds for van Rensburg

Astana were already in control as they headed through the neutral zone, ready to cover the many attacks, and they faced a hard task. Apart from a short-lived move with riders from ONE, Funvic and Southeast, no one managed to get clear during the first 20km of fast and aggressive racing.

 

As they approached the firs KOM sprint after 28.9km, Hengxiang took control to set KOM leader Wang Meiyin up for more points and they were successful as he held of Marcelo Felipe (7Eleven) and Kangeun Joo (KSPO). That didn’t dampen the attacking spirit and no one had escaped when they reached the first intermediate sprint at the 42km mark. Guardini had to sprint to protect the lead of his teammate Lopez and did well by beating van Rensburg, Matthew Goss (ONE) and Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff).

 

Chirico scores bonus seconds

The riders covered 48.5km during the frantic first hour and the fast pace created a split in the peloton. Meanwhile, Julen Amezqueta (Southeast) managed to escape for a few kilometres but his attempt ultimately failed.

 

Karol Domagalski (ONE) and Amir Mustapha (Malaysia) tried a move at the 55km mark but four kilometres later, another regrouping had taken place. Hence, things were together for the second sprint at the 63km mark where van Rensburg was looking to pick up more bonus seconds but a puncture took him out of contention. That allowed the GC riders to sprint for the points and it was Luca Chirico (Bardiani) who beat Hansen, Michael Kolar (Tinkoff) and Lachlan Norris (Drapac).

 

The break is formed

Finally, the elastic snapped when Wang, Kim Hyeonseok (KSPO), Mazuki Amirul (Terengganu), Loh Sea Keong and Mohammed Aiman (Malaysia) escaped. Carlos Manarelli (Funvic) managed to bridge the gap and the peloton took a small breather.

 

At the 77km mark, the gap had gone out to 3.20 but Astana quickly started to control things. It was only 3.35 at the 94km mark which gave the escapees time to contest the second KOM sprint, won by Manarelli ahead of Wang and Hyeonseok.

 

The break splits up

The peloton started to chase for real and after 105km of racing, they had already reduced the gap to just 1.50. Astana set the pace with Dias Omirzakov and Arman Kamyshev and shaved another 10 seconds off the lead during the next five kilometres. Manarelli beat Wang, Hyeonseok and Aiman in the final intermediate sprint.

 

The chase forced the escapees to react and that spelled the end for Manarelli and Hyeonseok who were both left behind. Aiman was the next to surrender, leaving just Wang, Loh and Amirul to press on. Ultimately, it was all in vain as it ended with another Guardini victory.

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