February 6, 2006 – Here is the latest from Malaysia:
Stage 4: Tapah-Kuala Selangor: 142.2 km
Today’s fourth stage of the Tour de Langkawi was yet again another example of the race’s potential for unusual outcome. The pan flat stage from Tapah at the base of Cameron Highlands back to the coastal town of Kuala Selangor was tailor made for the sprinters, and the complicated approach to the finish was certain to produce plenty of high-speed excitement.
The Navigators Insurance team plan for the stage was to conserve as much energy as possible for tomorrow’s all important climb to Genting Highlands, while protecting the third placed GC position of leader Cesar Grajales. The one major concern was to not let Columbian climbing ace Jose Serpa back into GC contention, thereby giving Selle Italia a third, and perhaps most dangerous weapon. In spite of the clear focus on the dangerous Columbian, Serpa managed to sneak into an early escape, and as the South African team of race leader David George took control of the pace making, an eight-man group was allowed its exodus. With Serpa being the top placed rider in the lead group at over 9 minutes back, George’s team was content to roll a moderate pace for the next 80 km as the lead built to nearly 7 minutes. With just over 50 km to go, it was time for the Navigators Insurance squad to move to the front and take the pace to a more ambitious level.
Selle Italia already had two dangerous climbing aces in key GC positions with Italian Gabriele Missaglia in 2nd place, and Columbian national champion Walter Pedraza in 5th. To allow Serpa, perhaps the strongest climber on the team, to work his way back into contention would give Selle Italia a superior quiver of arrows to set in flight over the next several days, and make defense of the top GC positions a difficult task at best. With the possibility of this threat becoming a reality, Shawn Milne and Bernard Van Ulden worked into the South African rotation, and took the pace up another 10km/hr.
Immediately, the gap began to drop, and although the South Africans seemed to resist the increased pace, the Navigators pressed on, putting the peloton in a long single line, mostly in the gutter, for the next 40 km. With the gap down to 2’30’ and just over 10km to go, George’s team all but pulled the plug. Meanwhile, Serpa had attacked the lead group, and was off on a solo mission to the finish. The remains of the break were split in two, and their pace increased as the three groups chased each other. With 5km to go, it was still Navigators Insurance on the front, but they were giving back some time to the now very aggressively riding leaders. In the final kilometers, the sprinters teams of point’s jersey leader Radochla (Wiesenhof) and English National Champ Russel Downing came to the front to set up the sprint for 9th place.
Serpa soloed in to give the climbing specialist the victory in what should have been a stage for the sprinters, while Radochla took the sprint for 9th, exactly 3 minutes later. The top Classification spots remained unchanged as the field prepares for the race’s jewel stage, and the 40 km climb to Genting.
1 JosÃ© Serpa (Col) Selle Italia Diquigiovanni 3.17.46 (41.16 km/h)
2 Evan Oliphant (GBr) Recyling.Co.Uk 0.15
3 Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R Prevoyance 0.17
4 Stef Clement (Ned) Bouygues Telecom 0.18
5 Xavier Tondi Volpini (Spa) Relax-Gam 0.31
6 Kazuhiro Mori (Jpn) Japan 1.06
7 Johan Verstrepen (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago
8 Mirko Allegrini (Ita) Ceramica Panaria-Navigare 1.08
9 Steffen Radochla (Ger) Wiesenhof Akud 3.00
10 SÃ©bastien Hinault (Fra) Credit Agricole
23 Mark Walters (Can) Navigators Insurance
1 David George (RSA) South Africa 13.07.52
2 Gabriele Missaglia (Ita) Selle Italia Diquigiovanni 0.40
3 Cesar Grajales (Col) Navigators Insurance 2.22
4 Francesco Bellotti (Ita) Credit Agricole
5 Walter Pedraza (Col) Selle Italia Diquigiovanni
6 Laurent Lefevre (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
7 Benoit Poilvet (Fra) Credit Agricole 2.27
8 Robin Sharman (GBr) Recyling.Co.Uk 2.28
9 Mark Walters (Can) Navigators Insurance 3.27
10 Jose Miguel Elias Galindo (Spa) Relax-Gam 4.59