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After Dimension Data had been put under pressure all day, Guardini came out on top in the bunch sprint on stage 7 of the Tour de Langkawi, holding off Mareczko and Palini; van Rensburg 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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NTT PRO CYCLING TEAM

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REINARDT JANSE VAN RENSBURG

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TOUR DE LANGKAWI

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01.03.2016 @ 15:12 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Andrea Guardini (Astana) confirmed his status as the fastest rider in the Tour de Langkawi by increasing his tally of stage wins to 21 on the penultimate stage of the race. After a fast stage where Dimension Data had been put under pressure, he held off Jakub Mareczko (Southeast) and Andrea Palini (Skydive) in a photo finish while Reinardt van Rensburg (Dimension Data) finished fifth and defended his overall lead.

 

Yesterday Andrea Guardini realized that the final climb was too hard and he decided to save energy for the final two flat stages where he had a great chance to extend his record tally of 20 stage wins in the Tour de Langkawi. The decision proved to be a wise one as it paid off immediately as he again showed that he is the fastest rider in the peloton by winning the penultimate stage.

 

However, there was never any guarantee that Guardini would get the chance to sprint as his Astana team chose an offensive tactic. After Miguel Angel Lopez had attacked on the first climb, the team put race leader Reinardt van Rensburg’s Dimension Data team under significant pressure by sending Laurens De Vreese who was just 2.06 behind in GC, on the attack.

 

In the end, the South African team neutralized the danger but then Guardini faced another obstacle. A strong Jakub Mareczko proved that he has found his legs in the second half of the race and it required a photo finish to declare Guardini the winner in a close battle.

 

With 20km to go, De Vreese and Tanner Putt (Unitedhealthcare) were still 1.50 ahead of the pelotonand it was evident that it would be a close battle. The two chasers of Ma Guangtong and Hyo Suk Gong were brought back, leaving just the two leader in front of the peloton which was led by all six Dimension Data riders.

 

With 17km to go, the gap was still 1.50 and there was still no help for Dimension Data. That finally changed one kilometre later when Androni moved ahead and positioned four riders on the front.

 

With 15km to go, the two leaders had an advantage of 1.41 but the Androni work was paying off. When they again left it to Dimension Data to set the pace with 11km to go, the gap was down to 44 seconds.

 

De Vreese decided that it was time to give it a final try and he quickly distanced Putt while Androni returned to the front of the peloton to take one final turn. However, it was Dimension Data that had to react when a Drapac rider and one of the local riders attacked.

 

The two attackers didn’t have any luck and Dimension Data again set their sights on Putt and De Vreese who were back together with 7km to go. That’s when Tinkoff decided that it was time to close the gap and when they moved to the front, it melted away.

 

Putt was the first to sit up and with 4km to go, De Vreese was also back in the fold. That set the scene for a battle between the sprint trains as Southeast and Drapac were fighting for the front positions with 3km to go.

 

Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and a ONE rider tried a late attack but Southeast and Drapac were controlling things firmly. The ONE rider dropped Lopez but it was impossible to hold of the field and he was brought back just after the passage of the flamme rouge.

 

Drapac hit the front with Tom Scully, Graeme Brown and Brenton Jones but the latter lost the wheel of Brown and instead the Aisan team hit the front with two riders. Shiki Kuroeda was given the perfect lead-out but was passed on the right by Jakub Mareczko. The Southeast rider looked like he was going to take another win but metres before the line Guardini managed to come around to take the win while a fast-finishing Andrea Palini ran out of metres and had to settle for fifth.

 

Reinardt van Rensburg finished fifth in the sprint and so missed out on the bonus seconds. However, it was enough to retain his 11-second advantage over Daniel Jaramillo (Unitedhealthcare).

 

Van Rensburg now just needs to survive the final stage which is a short, completely flat affair of 119km. As it finishes with three laps of a 7.9km circuit in Melaka, another bunch sprint is expected to end the race.

 

The longest stage

After yesterday’s dramatic stage, it was time for the longest stage when the riders covered 202.3km from Seremban to Parit Sulong. The course included early category 3 and 4 climbs but the final summit was located no less than 130.4km from the finish, a bunch sprint was the expected outcome.

 

It was again a very hot day in Malaysia when the 124 rider that finished yesterday, rolled out for their neutral ride. With this stage being the final real chance for a breakaway, it was no surprise that it got off to a very fast start.

 

The peloton explodes

Tinkoff and Unitedhelthcare were among the most active teams but after 16km of racing no one had managed to escape. When the elastic finally snapped, the move was initiated by those two teams as they sent Juraj Sagan (Tinkoff) and Tanner Putt (Unitedhealthcare) on the offensive. Karol Domagalski (ONE) and Ma Guangtong (Hengxiang) were the first to join them and when Laurens De Vreese (Astana) and Meher Hasnaoui (Skydive) also made the junction, a sextet was formed.

 

The leaders reached the bottom of the first climb at the 25km mark with an advantage of 50 seconds but started to lose ground when the peloton accelerated furiously. The group was whittled down as three riders pressed on but they were ultimately brought back by the peloton which had been reduced to just 25 riders. They led a bigger group by 48 seconds as they approached the summit.

 

A new break is formed

It was Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) who was eager to leave yesterday’s disappointment behind and he was the first rider to crest the summit followed by De Vreese, Domagalski and Daniel Jaramillo (Unitedhealthcare). His fast pace meant that the gap went out to 1.10 as they headed down the descent.

 

There was no great cooperation in the group and so another sextet managed to escape. Again De Vreese, Sagan, Putt and Domagalski were part of the action and this time they had Gong Hyo Suk (KSPO) and Agung Sahbana (Pegasus) for company. While they started to open an advantage, a regrouping took place further back.

 

The break splits up

Domagalski beat Putt, Sagan and Gong in the first intermediate sprint after a fast hour during which they had covered 47km. They got to the 50km mark with an advantage of 1.45 as Dimension Data were controlling things in the peloton.

 

There was no cooperation in the breakaway as Putt and Gong attacked and out 10 seconds into their former companions. Sagan joined them and at the 57km mark, they had distanced their three chasers by 39 seconds. The peloton was at 2.50.

 

Three riders get clear

De Vreese and Domagalski refused to give up and after dropping Sahbana, they rejoined the front group which had an advantage of 3.50 at the 55km mark. That didn’t stop the attacking as Putt went again and this time it was De Vreese who managed to follow.

 

Gong also rejoined the front group which had put 51 seconds into Sagan, Domagalski and Sahbana at the 75km mark. At this point, the peloton was 4.15 behind.

 

Dimension Data in control

Putt beat De Vreese and Gong in the second KOM sprint at a point where Dimension Data decided to up the pace. At the 81km mark, they had reduced the gap to 3.05, knowing that De Vreese was only 2.06 behind in the GC. The three chasers were still trailing by 40 seconds.

 

The front trio pushed their advantage out to 3.55 at the 90km mark while the three chasers sat up after having seen the gap go out to more than a minute. Johan van Zyl was taking some massive turns in the peloton, trying to control things, and he and his teammates kept the gap between the 3- and 4-minute marks. De Vreese beat Putt and Gong in the second intermediate sprint while Songezo Jim (Dimension Data) was first from the peloton.

 

Chinese pair bridge the gap

The Hengxiang duo of Ma Guangtong and Zheng Zhang attacked and as they reached the 126km mark, they were just 2.05 behind the leader while the peloton was 1.10 further adrift. Impressively, the Chinese pair made the junction after 131km of racing where the peloton had reduced the gap to 2.50.

 

Zheng led Gong, De Vreese and Putt across the line in the final intermediate sprint with 71km to go before the peloton crossed the line 2.35 later. Here Bai Li Jun (Giant) tried to do what Zheng and Ma had done previously as he took off in a solo move.

 

The gap grows

Surprisingly, the peloton slowed down and suddenly the gap had gone out to 4.05, with Bai trailing the leaders by 3.15. It even went out to 4.40 after 138km of racing and suddenly the clock showed 5.20. At this point, Bai was 2.40 behind but not getting much closer.

 

With De Vreese sitting on, there was a lack of cooperation in the front group which briefly split up and this allowed Dimension Data to take back some time. With 46km to go, the gap had been reduced to 4.10 and it quickly dropped to less than four minutes as Bai was reeled in.

 

The break splits up

When it was down to 2.22, the attacking in the front group started again when De Vreese, Putt and Ma got clear. Gong tried to bridge the gap while Zhang was distanced.

 

Ma was unable to keep up with Putt and De Vreese and dropped back to Ma, 22 seconds behind the leading pair. Meanwhile, the peloton brought Zhang back and reduced the gap to 2 minutes to set the scene for the finale.

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