3/1/2013 12:00:00 AM - TEAM NEWS!

Le Tour de Langkawi 2013 - February 27, Stage 7: Kuantan - Dungun 149.8km

Guardini adds to his Langkawi record with another win

Chicchi boxed-in for second, Kruopis picks up another podium

After seven stages Andrea Guardini has finally picked up the win he's been so desperate to achieve. Guardini won the sprint finish on the long straight run to the finish line in Dungun on Stage 7, beating a frustrated Francesco Chicchi (Vini Fantini – Selle Italia) into second-place with the ever-consistent Aidis Kruopis (Orica GreenEdge) in third. Race leader Julian Arredondo (Team Nippo - De Rosa) finished comfortably in the bunch to retain his overall lead.

The win into Dungun marked Guardini's 12th stage victory at Tour de Langkawi but it felt like his first, according to the Italian who signed for the Astana team at the end of 2012. Guardini had stated from the beginning of the tour the his condition was extremely good and yet the rider who has dominated the finishes over the past two years has been unable to beat the likes of Theo Bos (Blanco) and Chicchi this year.

Having started his season in Australian at Tour Down Under before continuing at Tour of Qatar meant the Astana rider arrived in Malaysia with enough race days to contest the sprints but the ProTeam-stacked field attracted for the 2012 edition has seen him beaten to the line in each of the four previous sprints. Chicchi, who rode for Omega Pharam – Quick-Step in 2012 is the exception after Bos cleaned up with back-to-back stage wins before withdrawing before starting Stage 6.

"From the start of the season I have done two hard races. First in Australia, at [Tour] Down Under which was so difficult because my condition was not at the top," said Guardini.

"Then at Qatar it was going up but not so good for winning. In Langkawi, it's the perfect moment because after 12 days of racing [this year] my condition is so, so good from the start of the race," he added.

"This is the best [win] because of so much suffering."

A five kilometre-long coastal road into the finish at Dungun made for an interesting finale as numerous teams attempted to control the unwavering peloton. Unlike the previous days which featured corners in the final kilometre, the closing kilometres into Dungun were completely straight.

At the finish Guardini was able to open up his sprint at just the right time, relegating a frustrated Chicchi who had to brake multiple times inside the final 500m into second place while Kruopis seemed content with taking another the final place on the podium.

"The wind was coming from the sea and we kept to the left [of the road]. My teammates [Assen] Bazayez and [Ruslan] Tleubayev gave me cover from the wind and after at 500m, Tleubayev took me onto the wheel of Allan Davis and Kruopis. I started my sprint at 200m [to go] in the left side, so I was covered by the wind," said Guardini.

"This is my first victory here with the Astana team and it's a powerful team. It's so, so good. It's been so many months without winning which is not so simple for a sprinter – especially for me.

"I'm very, very happy to make the first victory of the year for this team," he added.

Relentless Meyer on the attack again

It was another sunny start to Stage 7 at Tour de Langkawi with riders more than happy with the warming conditions after the deluge of rain experienced the day before. That was until the clouds began to roll over shortly after the stage started and with predicted showers throughout the 149.8km stage, the day could present another opportunity to split the field.

The break was established fairly soon after the bunch rolled out from the start at Kuantan with Travis Meyer (Orica GreenEdge) on the attack for his third day-in-a-row, being joined by Europcar's Cyrille Gautier.

The two men charged with providing excitement for the day were not simply stretching their legs, they were pushing hard from the moment they got away. The two had covered 15km and while the bunch insisted for a while, they quickly gave up chasing.

Meyer and Gautier's advantage was in excess of four minutes after passing 30km as the team of race leader Julian Arredondo (Team Nippo – De Rosa) took it's place at the front to control the escapees lead.

The rain had been coming in ebbs and flows while the two continued to tap out a steady pace, peaking their lead to approximately seven minutes before the bunch began to up its ante.

Meyer took the first sprint uncontested from Gautier at 50.4km, meanwhile the bunch were racing for vital points. Harif Saleh (TSG) took third while Anuar Manan (Synergy – Baku) finished fourth. Manan has won the sprints jersey in the 2008 and started the day in second in the classifcation, 14 points behind current leader Andrea Guardini.

Astana took up some of the pace-setting duties while Gautier took maximum points of the first Cat 4 climb of the day with Meyer was content to follow his Europcar companion over the top.

Omega Pharma – Quick-Step had also come to the front to assist, bringing the gap down to under two minutes with 80km covered. They were looking out for sprinter Andrew Fenn – who was part of the late escape in yesterday's stage before being swallowed up by the peloton with less than 10km to go.

The two remained out from for a little less than an hour more before the catch was made, perhaps earlier than expected.

The final sprint at 122.6km saw second-place overall Pieter Weening (Orica GreenEdge) pick up a one-second bonus after being challenged by Arredondo's teammate Mauro Richeze who pipped the Dutchman on the line for second-place behind Manan.

Omega Pharma were committing to the bunch sprint while the team of Vini Fantini were also keen to get their man Chicchi up for another stage victory. The Italian, who signed from OPQS at the end of 2012 won his first Langkawi stage on day 3 this year and today's long run into the finish, nearly 5km of dead-straight road was suited to the rapid finisher.

The three sprint teams of OPQS, Astana and Vini Fantini had one rider represented at the front with 15km while race leader Arredondo had his Nippo squad tucked in right behind the three ProTeam riders.

Blanco may have lost its star sprinter Theo Bos but they still had one of the fastest finishers in the group with Graeme Brown. 'Browny' knows the Langkawi sprints better than most, having accumulated nine stage wins over his careeer.

The final kilometres were dominated by Orica GreenEdge and OPQS who were attempting to use the slight coast breeze to make moving up difficult. The pace however, was not high enough to really string it out and coming into the finish it was Guardini who got the jump, leaving Chicchi to eventually make his way through the bunch to finish second with Kruopis taking third.

Photo credit © Bettini

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