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Andrea Guardini wins stage 6, his third, at the 2011 Tour de Langkawi

Three wins out of four sprint finishes. Not bad for a neo-pro.

2011 Tour de Langkawi Stage 6: Anuar Manan congratulates Andrea Guardini for win No. 3
2011 Tour de Langkawi Stage 6: Anuar Manan congratulates Andrea Guardini for win No. 3

After the general classification battles of the past two days, the Tour de Langkawi returned to flatter terrain, and Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini –Neri Sottoli) clocked up his hat-trick of sprint victories in the race.

The 21-year-old Italian led out the gallop and had enough strength to hold off points jersey rival Anuar Manan (Terengganu ProAsia) and 2010 stage winner Takashi Miyuazawa (Farnese Vini – Neri Sottoli) to the line in Purajaya.

Manan had the consolation of taking the blue points jersey thanks to the bonus sprint he won at Ulu Klang, 26.3 kilometers after the start in Rawang. His goals for this year’s event are to repeat the victory in that classification plus the stage win he took in the 2010 edition, and wearing the jersey Saturday should motivate him.

One who is already psyched by a jersey is overall leader Libardo Nino Corredor (Le Tua). He kept close tabs on his rivals Friday and rolled across the line in 36th place, preserving the two seconds lead he held over Jonnatha Monsalve before the stage.

“This was been a very fast stage with many attempts at breakaways,” he said, referring in particular to a threatening move containing the fifth-placed rider Rahim Emami (Azad University). “The race started very fast from the gun and there was a breakaway for the second hotspot sprint. Fortunately the Androni team worked a lot to close the gap to the breakaway riders and my team-mates told me about the course at the end. That is how I kept the yellow jersey today.”

Top rival Monsalve explained that the team decided to ride in order to prevent another rider jumping above him in the general classification. He can take over the race lead if he can pick up some bonus seconds, but to do that he needs to finish ahead of some of the sprint specialists who are scrapping it out for the points jersey.

“There are four more stages remaining. We see that the sprinters are very focussed on scoring points, so it is going to be hard,” he stated. “But we will see how it goes tomorrow.”

The pattern of racing has become fascinating due to these twin battles; on the one hand, the sprinters are focussed completely on the blue jersey, while the GC contenders are fixated on the yellow. Guardini is one of the prime contenders for the former and with his succession of stage wins, his confidence is good enough that he didn’t sound too concerned that Manan took over that blue jersey Friday.

However he needs to be careful; a win in the intermediate sprints confers a two point gain over the second-placed rider, while for the finishes, the difference is just one point. Guardini has tended to be quicker than Manan at the end of the stages, but the Malaysian rider has had the edge in the earlier sprints. If Friday’s pattern continues, Manan will be the winner of the jersey next Tuesday rather than him.

“It is a great achievement to get three stage wins out of four so far,” the Italian said, reacting to the victory he picked up Friday. “There is a big battle for the hot spot sprints and the classification for points is very tight. Anuar Manan is extremely determined to win this classification. There is only one point between us, but I am fine with it for now.”

Manan promised to keep the pressure on, and does appear very motivated. “Today I didn’t get the win, but I got the blue [jersey]. I would like to thank my team-mates who worked hard today. I will try to keep the blue jersey until the end. I will try to win a stage, but today I didn’t get to do that…I got second and am a little bit unhappy, but I will try tomorrow.”

The usual early attacks

After several early attacks, the riders hit the first of the day’s two category four climbs. On this climb of Bukit Kanching (km 7.6), Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano) beat Mirsamad Pourseyedi (Azad University) and Gang Xu (Max Success Sports) to the top, trying to improve on his fifth overall in the mountains classification. The peloton then came back together before the Ulu Klang sprint (km 26.3), where the sprinters fought it out for the points jersey. Malaysian favourite Anuar Manan (Terengganu ProAsia) beat Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) here, with 2010 race leader Tobias Erler (Tabriz Petrochemical) netting third. The two points gained by Manan moved him into the virtual lead of that classification; they had started the stage on the same points, with Guardini holding the blue jersey on countback.

After 37 kilometers, Pierre Rolland (Europcar) attacked and briefly led the race, but things came back together quickly under the fast pace being set. A total of 48 kilometers was covered in the first hour of racing.

Ten kilometers later, 15 riders went clear and from this group, Boris Shpilevsky (Tabriz Petrochemical) beat Suhardi Hassan (Malaysian National) and Hossein Askari (Tabriz Petrochemical) to the intermediate sprint at Kajang (km 54.6).

These were recaptured and then six riders pushed ahead: Paolo Locatelli (Colnago CSF Inox Pro), Jose Mendes (CCC Polstat Polkowiche), Benjamin Gourgue (Landbouwkredeit), David Pell (Drapac), Kenichi Suzuki (Aisan Racing) and Mirsamad Pourseyedi (Azad University). These had a 39 second advantage on the first of four passages over the finish line, and there Locatelli beat Suzuki and Pell for the prime.

Behind, the Androni team of second-overall Jonnatha Monsalve were chasing and had halved the gap by the end of the first of three 11 kilometer laps. By the end of the next circuit, this was down to just ten seconds and while it momentarily went back up to 18 seconds, everything came together with four kilometers to go. That set things up for the fourth bunch sprint of the race and there Guardini made no mistakes, leading from a long way out and holding off Manan to net his third stage win.

Race leader Libardo Nino Corredor (Le Tua) rolled across the line in 36th place, preserving the two seconds lead he held over Jonnatha Monsalve before the stage.

The battles will continue Saturday on the seventh stage of the race. It run 149.5 kilometers from Banting to Tampin and, as was the case Friday, will include two category four climbs and three intermediate sprints.