Tour of Turkey review: Turkish delight for Sayar

TurkeylogoLocal rider Mustafa Sayar, having finished third on the queen stage, produced a powerful display of climbing on the race-defining stage six to propel himself onto the top step of the podium, from where no one could dislodge him, to take the 49th Tour of Turkey. Queen stage winner Natnael Berhane finished in second place overall, with Yoann Bagot third. Continue reading

Tour de Langkawi preview

Tour de Langkawi 2013 logoThe 18th Tour de Langkawi – one of Asia’s biggest and best known races – begins in Malaysia tomorrow, with its customary mix of big climbs punctuating an extended sprint fest. This year’s race is bigger than ever, with the number of ProTeams attending up from two to five.

What kind of race is it?

The Tour de Langkawi is one of only five 2.HC on the UCI Asia Tour and, at ten days, is the longest other than July’s Tour of Qignhai Lake. It has been a ten-day race since 2011.

In fact, there are two distinct races within the race. The battle for the general classification is largely concentrated on one or two high summit finishes (there are two this year), with the rest of the event given over to the sprinters, who have ample opportunity to target wins, with each edition typically featuring seven or eight stages which favour the fast men.

With big-name stage racers largely opting to stay in Europe ahead of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, Langkawi is often dominated by Pro-Continental teams, and in particular South American climbers. Colombian or Venezuelan riders have won six times, including the last four in a row, with riders from the climbing-focussed Androni Giocattoli team always showing well.

The most recent winners of the race are:

2008: Ruslan Ivanov (Moldova)

2009: Jose Serpa (Diquigiovanni-Androni)

2010: Jose Rujano (ISD-Neri)

2011: Jonathan Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli-Serramenti)

2012: Jose Serpa (Androni Giocattoli)

What happened last year?

2012 winner Jose Serpa (image courtesy of Tour de Langkawi)

2012 winner Jose Serpa (image courtesy of Tour de Langkawi)

Garmin’s David Zabriskie led the race for the first four days after a dominant win in the opening time trial. He would not relinquish the leader’s yellow jersey until stage five, when Androni’s Jose Serpa won from a successful two-man break. In between, Farnese Vini’s Andrea Guardini had stamped his authority on the sprint stages with three straight victories.

Serpa won again at the top of Genting Highlands – the fourth time he had won that particular stage – to take over the yellow jersey by 30 seconds from teammate Jose Rujano. That effectively set the GC in stone, as Colnago neo-pro Marco Canola won stage seven from a break before Guardini closed out with a second hat-trick of sprint wins to finish with six overall.

1. Jose Serpa (Androni Giocattoli) 32:55:31

2. Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +0:30

3. Victor Nino Corredor (Azad University Cross) +1:03

4. Alexandr Dyachenko (Astana) +2:20

5. Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli) +3:50

6. Stefano Locatelli (Colnago-CSF Inox) +4:15

7. Ghader Mizbani (Tabriz Petrochemical) +4:23

8. Andrey Zeits (Astana) +4:28

9. Dennis Van Niekerk (MTN Qhubeka) +4:33

10. Joseph Cooper (New Zealand) +4:44

Our 2012 race reviews can be found here: Stages 1-5, Stage 6, Stages 7-10

This year’s race

The 2013 edition delivers a double-whammy of genuinely punishing summit finishes which will determine the general classification by the halfway stage of the race.

The pain begins on stage three with a concluding climb to 1,500 metres in the Cameron Highlands. This will blow the peloton to smithereens and see all the major contenders come out to play on what promises to be a hot, humid and sapping 141km stage.

Stage 3 ends with a summit finish in the Cameron Highlands

Stage 3 ends with a summit finish in the Cameron Highlands

Two days later, a short (110km) stage five is sure to see fireworks as it represents the last chance to shake up the GC. The finish is at the resort of Genting Highlands, 1,679 metres above sea level. The parcours is essentially identical to last year’s queen stage, won by Jose Serpa, who went on to claim the overall.

Stage 5's finish at Genting Highlands should decide the GC

Stage 5’s finish at Genting Highlands should decide the GC

In and around these two big climbing stages every other day offers the likelihood of a bunch sprint, though several are far from routine. Some stages feature a series of smallish climbs in the closing kilometres which could favour late attacks. Others have hard-to-judge uphill finishes which will challenge the sprinters’ staying power. Those who survive the mountains unscathed will have the prospect of a five-stage sprint-fest to sweep them to the finish. In all, eight of the ten stages could be claimed by the fast-twitch men.

Who to watch

Guardini will be looking to add to his 11 Langkawi wins (image courtesy of Astana)

Guardini will be looking to add to his 11 Langkawi wins (image courtesy of Astana)

With so many sprint stages on offer, it’s no surprise that the bigger teams have arrived heavily loaded with quick men. Astana can now boast Guardini, who won 11 stages here over the past two years for Farnese Vini. However, the young Italian will face a greater depth of rival talent this year. It will come as little surprise that Omega Pharma-Quick Step will focus their efforts behind a British sprinter, although in this case it will be Andrew Fenn rather than Mark Cavendish. Fellow ProTeams Blanco and Garmin-Sharp will line up for Volta ao Algarve stage winner Theo Bos and Aussie Steele Von Hoff, while Orica-GreenEDGE will most likely look to Aidis Kruopis.

There’s plenty of sprint talent in the European Pro-Continental squads too. Vini Fantini have Francesco Chicchi, Europcar double Etoile de Besseges stage winner Bryan Coquard and UnitedHealthcare German veteran Robert Forster. My pick of the local sprinters would be Salleh Harrif from the Terengganu team, who had three top-four finishes in the 2012 edition.

Pierre Rolland (image courtesy of Europcar)

Rolland will be one of the big GC favourites (image courtesy of Europcar)

The winner of the general classification is likely to come from outside of the WorldTour squads. Although Serpa is not defending his title, 2011 winner Jonathan Monsalve is present with Vini Fantini. Last year’s third, fourth and fifth-placed finishers also return: Victor Nino Corredor (RTS), Alexandr Dyachenko (Astana) and Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli). Androni’s Carlos Ochoa is another potential danger man.

However, the rider with the strongest pedigree is Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, who will be opening his 2013 campaign here. The Frenchman has placed in the top ten at the last two Tours de France and can count victories on Alpe d’Huez and La Toussuire on his palmares. If he’s in good form, he should win.

Race details

February 21st: Stage 1 – Kangar to Kulim, 162.7km

February 22nd: Stage 2 – Serdang to Kuala Kangsar, 117.8km

February 23rd: Stage 3 – Sungai Siput to Cameron Highlands, 140.7km

February 24th: Stage 4 – Tapah to Kapar, 168km

February 25th: Stage 5 – Proton to Genting Highlands, 110.3km

February 26th: Stage 6 – Mentakab to Kuantan, 217.5km

February 27th: Stage 7 – Kuantan to Dungun, 149.8km

February 28th: Stage 8 – Kuala Terengganu to Tanah Merah, 164.5km

March 1st: Stage 9 – Pasir Puteh to Kuala Berang, 123.6km

March 2nd: Stage 10 – Tasik Kenyir to Kuala Terengganu, 114.8km

The Tour de Langkawi starts on Thursday 21st February and concludes on Saturday 2nd March. For live coverage check

Link: Official website

Tour of Qatar review: Cav-druple

ToQ2013logoMark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) continued his team’s dominance of this race and, with four straight victories, was definitely King of the Sand-Castles. Brent Bookwalter (BMC) was runner-up thanks to his individual win on stage one and his team’s on stage two. The teammate who orchestrated that team time trial victory, Taylor Phinney, completed the podium and took best young rider. BMC also won best team, dominating the general classification with five riders in the top seven overall.                       

Race summary

After escaping in the final kilometres with Gregory Rast (RadioShack) and Martin Elmiger (IAM), Bookwalter got his and his team’s season under way by snatching victory in the sprint for the line – only his second win in a six-year professional career. The wind played havoc with the day’s racing, forcing breaks in the peloton which constantly had to regroup.

Bookwalter extended his overall lead after BMC won stage two, a flat 14km team time trial. They clocked 16:07, four seconds faster than runners-up Sky, with Omega Pharma-Quick Step third.

Ridden on normal road bikes with ordinary road helmets and no start ramp, RadioShack-Leopard, marshalled by Fabian Cancellara, set a time of 16:18 which was good enough to withstand the efforts of a number of fancied teams including Katusha and Orica-GreenEDGE. But world team time trial champions OPQS managed to shave a second off that time. Then Sky posted the fastest time while final runners BMC were still on the course. They opted for the tactic of burning three riders en route to finish with the minimum five, going four seconds quicker, taking the stage win and retaining their grip on both the leader’s and points jerseys.

Stage three saw Mark Cavendish take the bunch sprint ahead of Barry Markus (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEDGE), which moved him to within eight seconds of Bookwalter, who finished safely in the bunch.

BMC and OPQS worked hard to keep the day’s seven-man break under control, a task made easier by the apparent lack of wind and splits in the peloton on the 143km circuit. However, with so many sprinters looking to score their vital first fix of victory, the last 10km of racing was hectic with teams jostling for position. Cavendish rode to the finish on the rear wheel of Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), then accelerated from 350 metres out to overtake his challengers and sail across the finishing line.

A repeat victory on stage four at Al Khor Corniche saw Cavendish take over the race lead. Again sprinting from well out, the Manxman came around a fading Andrea Guardini (Astana), who was also overtaken by Markus, to claim a comfortable win.

The day’s long breakaway trio escaped early on but were easily reeled in with around 8km remaining by the sprinters’ teams – many still searching for an elusive first win – to set up another bunch sprint. Although, there was more wind than the previous day there wasn’t enough to disturb the peloton. A crash in the final few kilometres delayed race leader Bookwalter – who was credited with same time as Cavendish – but the winner’s ten-second time bonus was enough for him to take the gold leader’s jersey. Bookwalter dropped to second, two seconds back, with teammate Phinney third at eight seconds.

Thursday was Groundhog Day in Qatar as Cavendish extended his lead with his third consecutive victory – and a nice birthday present for OPQS team owner Zdenek Bakala – on the fifth stage from Al Zubara Fort to Madinat Al Shamal. But the Manx Missile didn’t have it all his own way, with a couple of scares late on. Firstly, in the final 25km an attack from Phinney – his second of the day – in the company of Bernhard Eisel (Sky) had to be brought to heel. And then in the final a late surge to the line by Belarusian champion Yauheni Hutarovich (Ag2r La Mondiale) almost snatched victory away in the dying metres.

Despite claiming he was only here for stage wins, Cavendish picked up a three-second advantage at an intermediate sprint which, combined with his ten-second win bonus, increased his lead over Bookwalter to 15 seconds with only one stage remaining.

Tour du Quatre! Cavendish won his fourth stage and the overall at a canter to claim his second overall stage race victory [after last year’s Ster ZLM Toer, giving him twice the career total of one Andy Schleck – Ed]. The Manx Missile bested the Minsk Missile Hutarovich in a sprint finish for the second day running, with Markus third. Astana and Sky had taken control of the peloton in the final kilometre hoping to deliver their respective sprinters Guardini and Boasson Hagen to victory, but Cav was having none of it. From a long way back, he found his way through on the right-hand side, timing his sprint to perfection.

Analysis & opinion

Cav victorious in Qatar (image coutesy of Omega Pharma-QuckStep)

Cav victorious in Qatar (image courtesy of Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

This stage race has long been dominated by the team that is now Omega Pharma-Quick Step and this year was no exception. It was pretty much a closed shop. Shorn of their perennial Tom and his magnificent Boonen(s), the Manx Missile proved to be a more than adequate substitute. Looking lean, mean and back to his best, he won four stages on the trot at a canter after his team had adroitly managed and steered the peloton. It was a job well done and augurs well for the team in the run up to their Classics season.

But who else deserves a pat on the back? Well, BMC, whose 2013 has gotten off to a much better start than 2012. They looked pretty awesome on the team time trial, superbly orchestrated by everyone’s favourite Hollywood star, Taylor Phinney, and Brent Bookwalter put the first notch on their bedstead on stage one and wore the leader’s jersey for three days. He put up a good fight but was ultimately unable to withstand the onslaught of the OPQS juggernaut. He finished runner-up, while Phinney was third.

21 year old Barry Markus impressed (image courtesy of Vacansoleil-DCM)

21-year old Barry Markus impressed (image courtesy of Vacansoleil-DCM)

Sky, runners-up in the time trial, placed four riders in the top ten overall and spent plenty of time animating the race. No victories but nonetheless a satisfactory performance ahead of the European WorldTour stage races and the all-important Classics.

I feel I should also mention that there were four British riders in the top ten: Cavendish, BMC’s Adam Blythe and Sky’s Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas. There are two other riders worthy of a mention. In our pre-season round table we talked about second year neo-pros who would begin to show their mettle. We didn’t mention Barry Markus who, with a solid and successful track background, is beginning to make us sit up and take notice. He had two top tens in the Tour Down Under and went even better here. A big win must surely be on the cards. We also discussed older riders who might be revitalised by a move – riders such as Yauheni Hutarovich, who’s moved this season from FDJ to Ag2r and finished right on Cav’s wheel in the final two stages.

General classification

1. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 15:55:20

2. Brent Bookwalter (BMC) +0:25

3. Taylor Phinney (BMC) +0:26

4. Adam Blythe (BMC) +0:30

5. Bernhard Eisel (Sky) +0:32

6. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) same time

7. Michael Schaer (BMC) +0:35

8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) +0:39

9. Luke Rowe (Sky) +0:40

10. Geraint Thomas (Sky) s/t

Links: Preview, Official website