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An in-form Guardini continued his love affair with the Tour de Langkawi by beating Ewan and Manan in the first bunch sprint of the race

Photo: Muscat Municipality/Paumer/B.Bade

ANDREA GUARDINI

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ANUAR MANAN

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ASTANA QAZAQSTAN TEAM

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TOUR DE LANGKAWI

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08.03.2015 @ 12:08 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Andrea Guardini (Astana) continued his love affair with the Tour de Langkawi when the fast Italian won the first stage of Asia’s biggest bike race. In the expected bunch sprint, he beat Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Anuar Manan (Terengganu) and so became the first leader of the 8-day race.

 

In 2011, Andrea Guardini burst onto the professional scene when he won an impressive 5 stages of the Tour de Langkawi, his first race in the pro ranks. One year later he added another 6 wins to his palmares and even though his winning rate has been a bit slower in recent years, he has firmly established himself as the most successful rider in the history of the race.

 

Today Guardini continued his run of success in Malaysia when he won the first stage of the 2015 edition. Having shown great condition in his first races in the Middle East, the Astana rider went into the stage as the man to beat but many were looking forward to see how young Caleb Ewan would go up against one of the in-form sprinters on the WorldTour.

 

Last year the early break stayed away in stage 1 and Orica-GreenEDGE and Astana were very intent on having a clash between their two sprinters already on the first day. Hence, those two teams combined forces to chase the early break which never got an advantage of more than 2.10.

 

However, the final two survivors Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthCare) and Meher Hasnaoui (Skydive) proved to be harder to catch than expected. With 15km to go, the pair were still 1.40 ahead and for a moment it seemed like the sprint teams were on the defensive.

 

However, they managed to up the pace in time and with 5km to go, the gap had been reduced to just 20 seconds. This prompted Reijnen to try a solo move but with 2km to go, it all came back together for the expected bunch sprint.

 

Here Ewan had to realize that he still has some work to do before he can contend with the best as he was relegated into second by the in-form Guardini. Local hero Anuar Manan did very well by taking the final spot on the podium.

 

With the win, Guardini takes the first leader’s jersey in the race and he goes into stage 2 with an advantage of 4 seconds over Ewan. Stage 2 could be a tougher affair as it is a lot longer and a bit hillier with two category 4 climbs inside the final third of the race. With a flat finish, however, a bunch sprint is the expected outcome.

 

A short, flat opener

The Tour de Langkawi kicked off with a 99.2km stage that took the riders around the island of Langkawi, with the stage starting and finishing in the eponymous city. The roads were almost completely flat, with just three small category 4 climbs to negotiate after km of racing, meaning that the sprinters were expected to come to the fore.

 

The riders took the start in beautiful, sunny conditions and as always in Langkawi, they got the race off to a very fast start. Lots of attacking took place in the opening phase and it took a little while for the break to be established.

 

The break is formed

First a 7-rider group briefly seemed to have made the difference but they were quickly brought back. Instead, Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthCare), Simone Andreeta (Bardiani), Muhamad Othman (Terengganu), Ma GuangTong (Hengxiang) and Meher Hasnaoui (Skydive) took off after six kilometres of racing and they managed to build an advantage.

 

Liam Bertazzo (Southeast) bridged across before the peloton slowed down. At the 8km mark, the leaders were 27 seconds ahead and 2km later, they had extended it to 47 seconds.

 

Reijnen chases KOM points

Reijnen beat Othman and Hasnaoui in the first KOM sprint after 16.7km of racing at a time when the gap was 2.10. Moments later, Bertazzo was faster than Ma, Othman and Reijnen in the first intermediate sprint while Reijnen also beat Othman and Hasnaoui in the second KOM sprint at the 20.8km mark.

 

Bertazzo continued to pick up points when he beat Ma, Reijnen and Othman in the second intermediate sprint. Meanwhile, the peloton had upped the pace and at the 25km mark, the gap was only 1.40.

 

Astana and Orica-GreenEDGE take control

One year ago the early break stayed away in the first stage and Orica-GreenEDGE and Astana were keen on avoiding a repeat of that scenario. Hence, those two teams hit the front and kept the gap between 1.30 and 2.00 for a long time.

 

While three riders from Orica and two from Astana worked in the peloton, Bertazzo beat Othman, Ma and Reijnen in the final intermediate sprint and Reijnen led Andreetta and Hasnaoui across the line at the third KOM sprint to take the lead in the mountains classification. At this time, the peloton started to accelerate and at the 70km mark, the gap was only 1.10.

 

The break splits up

Team Sky now added one rider to the chase and this contributed to the fact that the gap continued to come down. When it was only 48 seconds, the attacking in the front group started when Bertazzo made a move but it was the subsequent attack from Hasnaoui that worked.

 

Hasnaoui was 12 seconds ahead with 20km to go and moments later he got some needed help from Reijnen who joined him. With 15km to go, they were 19 seconds ahead of their former companions while the peloton was still at 1.40.

 

The main group accelerated and with 10km to go, they had brought the gap down to 50 seconds. As the chasers had been brought back, Skydive hit the front before Astana again took over.

 

With 5km to go, the gap was still 20 seconds and this was the signal for Reijnen to go solo. With 4km to go, he was still 12 seconds ahead but 2km later, it was over. From here Aisan hit the front but it was Guardini who took the win.

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