Two weeks ago, Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare) was looking for miles in the saddle ahead of the Tour of Langkawi. On Thursday he’ll be looking for the leader’s jersey when the race hits the brutal slopes of the Genting Highlands.
“I’m going there to help (the sprinters) out any way I can and to get miles in with the hopes I come out of it good. In February the team heads to Spain and Italy and this is a build up for those February races,” Jones told VeloNews. “At this point in the season for me, miles are miles and I’ll go anywhere the team needs me.”
UnitedHealthcare attacked Langkawi with a sprint-focused roster that included Hilton Clarke, Robert Forster, Karl Menzies and Boy Van Poppel.
Jones finished fifth in a small group sprint in Wednesday’s fourth stage to move into the top 10 of the GC at the Tour of Langkawi, just ten seconds behind leader Takeaki Ayabe (Aisan Racing Team). It was the first of two consecutive mountainous days in the Malaysian tour. Thursday’s tough climbing day will likely decide the final overall standings.
The new UHC signee closed his most successful cyclocross season yet with a disappointing 15th at the U.S. cyclocross national championships after a first-lap crash took him out of contention. Twelve days off led Jones into the new year and he began his preparation for Langkawi in early January. A week before the 10-day race began, Jones was reserved about his chances in the mountains after focusing on one-hour efforts throughout ’cross season.
“I don’t know. We’ll see how I feel once we get there. If the climbs were in the first hour and a half, I could kill everyone,” he said. “That’s where my fitness lies at the moment.”
UnitedHealthcare’s young climber Max Jenkins is also in Malaysia and sits 28 seconds behind Jones. The team has yet to finish on the podium in the flatlands, but Jones and Jenkins could provide the team a boost Thursday. “The first goal is to win the sprinting stages and if Max and I have any energy left afterwards to think about the climbing stages that’s great,” said Jones.
Stage 4 photos: