3/1/2013 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!
Le Tour de Langkawi 2013
Chicchi takes narrow win into Kapar
February 24, Stage 4: Tapah - Kapar 168km
Guardini settles for second again, Kruopis in third
Francesco Chicchi got his new Vini Fantini - Selle Italia team its first big win of the season by taking a narrow victory against Andrea Guardini (Astana) on stage 4 at Tour de Langkawi while Aidis Kruopis finished in third-place more than two bike lengths behind.
His victory is something of a relief for the Italian squad that has collected a huge tally of Langkawi stage wins with its former rider Guardini over the last two years. This time however, it was one of the team's new signings Chicchi who unleashed one of his trademark sprints into the town of Kapar, darting alongside the barriers with Guardini providing the only real competition. Guardini actually appeared to have gotten the better of his Italian countryman but the 11-time Langkawi stage winner had opened his sprint too early with Chicchi kicking again in the final 100m to take the victory.
"Today we decided to watch what was happening because in the past three days we have worked very hard," explained Chicchi at the finish.
"The first two days was for me in the sprints and then yesterday we pulled for [Jonathan] Monsalve. Maybe it was a difficult first three days due to travelling far to get here.
"Today we waited for the end, I decided to watched Andrea and when he started sprinting with 300m to go I was on his wheel and could pass him.
"This is my first time in Malaysia and at Tour de Langkawi. I'm very happy to be here because we came with a good team and we are successful. It always feels better when you win and I'm happy to see so many people along the roadside here. We can feel that the spectators are happy to see us racing. I'm happy as well after winning," he said.
Guardini was once again relegated to the lower positions on the podium, taking his third minor placing for the tour. The rider who left Farnese Vini (Vini Fantini) for Astana at the end of 2012 admitted there is a much higher standard of sprinter this year, making the elusive victory all the more difficult.
"I'm used to winning all the sprints in this race but this year the competition is very high from Theo Bos to Francesco Chicchi and all the other good sprinters who are here," said Guardini.
"Today Francesco was better than me. He predicted the finish better than me. I was thinking of sprinting at 250m out but I started fifty metres earlier. Francesco was in the right position behind me. He has just been better than me today."
Group of three take off down the coast
With the first big day of climbing behind them and the Genting stage to come the following stage, it would be a brave group that would go on the attack. But today would not be any different to the others in Malaysia and once the flag dropped, the attacks begun.
Shortly after the start three riders forged a promising move that would make its way slowly down the west coast of Malaysia, toward its capital Kuala Lumpur and with none of them posing a threat to the huge lead of Wang, the peloton allowed them to go clear.
The group contained Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), who was actually the final rider to leave the start town of Tapah, obviously planning his escape up until the final moment the stage begun. Arashiro was joined by Taiji Nishitani (Aisan Racing Team) and of course it wouldn't be a Langakwi breakaway without a rider from OCBC Singapore. The chosen one for the fourth stage was Phuchong Sai-Udomsin (OCBC), leaving only a couple of riders from the team who are yet to go up the road.
The trio's gap went out to a little over four minutes before the Xengxiang-led bunch started to reel them back in with more than half of the 168km stage remaining. There was suggestions the small Chinese squad would not be capable of defending the lead of Wang but the squad proved more than able on one of the hottest days so far.
The sprinter's teams of Blanco, Omega Pharma – Quick-Step and Astana assisted with the chase later in the stage, putting one rider at the front to help capture the leaders and with 30km to go the attacking group had a little under two minutes advantage. The flat and straight highway roads leading to the finish in Kapar were simply waiting for the impeding bunch sprint.
The group were clearly tiring as Arashiro buried his head and drove a massive gear in an attempt to maintain their ever-dropping lead. With 25km to go the breakaway seemed certain to be caught as the gap dipped below 1:30. Arashiro was seen taking long turns and rarely asked for assistance as Nishitani and Sai-Udomsin started to struggle.
Nishitani was lapping through with Arashiro when he could but Sai-Udomsin was clearly exhausted from his long day under the Malaysian sun and could do little more than sit on his fellow escapees wheels. Arashiro's breakaway partners were shortly unhitched by his relentless pace-setting as he continued to go alone.
With 12km to go Arashiro was almost within sight of the bunch along the open roads into Kapar. Hengxiang had turned over responsibility to the ProTeams with Grabsch (Omega Pharma), Bazayev (Astana) and Goos (Blanco) doing the lion's share of the work before the lead-outs began to form.
With just under 10km Arashiro had been caught and a bunch sprint was inevitable. The 132-rider peloton was beginning to string out as the teams began to get organised.
Coming into the final 2km it looked like Blanco would steal the show with Bos but the sprinter who has dominated the two sprint stages thus far was missing when the group begun to open up their respective sprints.
With 300m to go it was Guardini who kicked earlier than anticipated, allowing Chicchi a moment in the slipstream before starting his own sprint into the headwind finish. Chicchi went down the left side while Guardini held the centre of the road but it was the Vini Fantini Italian who proved too strong in the end, winning by less than half a wheel.
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Photo credit © Bettini Photo