Tour de Langkawi review: Arredondo scales the heights

Tour de Langkawi 2013 logoJulian Arredondo (Nippo-De Rosa) continued the recent domination by South American climbers of the Tour de Langkawi, taking his first career overall victory courtesy of first and second places on the race’s two key mountain stages. Two wins each for Theo Bos, Bryan Coquard and Francesco Chicchi, plus one each for Tom Leezer and 2011 and 2012’s king of the sprints Andrea Guardini ensured the spoils on the flat stages were well shared out too.

Race summary

Astana’s Guardini (then riding for Farnese Vini) had dominated the sprints in the previous two editions, winning five times in 2011 and six last year. However, these victories had come against relatively weak opposition. With the number of ProTeams in Malaysia this year rising from two (Astana and Garmin-Sharp) to five (Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Blanco and Orica-GreenEDGE), so too did the quality of the sprint competition. Fresh from a win at the Volta ao Algarve, Blanco’s Theo Bos stamped his authority on both the opening stages in lively sprint finishes.

Bos bossed the early stages (image courtesy of Blanco)

Bos bossed the early stages (image courtesy of Blanco)

On stage one Bos benefitted from an impressive lead-out from Graeme Brown to take victory over Bryan Coquard (Europcar) and Guardini by several lengths. If anything, though, his victory the following day was even more impressive as he opened up the sprint more than 300 metres out and held on just long enough to beat Guardini and GreenEDGE’s Aidis Kruopis.

After the initial sparring, it was on stage three into the Cameron Highlands that the battle for the general classification really commenced, with the first of two tough mountain summit finishes. China’s Meiyin Wang (Hengxiang) launched a solo attack out of an all-Asian five-man lead group with 40km to go and stayed strong to become the first Chinese rider ever to win a stage in this race. He crossed the line with a handsome 2:27 margin over Julian Arredondo, who in turn was the best part of a minute in front of a gaggle of 25 other leading contenders including 2010 winner Jonathan Monsalve (Vini Fantini), Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Sergio Pardilla (MTN-Qhubeka). Wang ended the day with the distinction of leading all four jersey classifications: the overall, King of the Mountains, sprint and best Asian rider.

Having finished third and second in the opening two sprint stages, Guardini nearly went one better the following day. However, Vini Fantini’s Francesco Chicchi popped out of his slipstream to deny him and claim his first victory of 2013, with Kruopis again third.

Stage five provided the big GC showdown, with Wang attempting to protect his 2:43 advantage over Arredondo on the daunting 25km Genting Highlands climb which steepens as it rises and touches 20% in places. However, the Chinese rider could not live shoulder to shoulder with the best climbers and was rapidly popped out of the back of the leaders’ group. It was Arredondo who had the best legs, surging forward into the cloud layer to break away from Weening and passing lone breakaway man Travis Meyer (GreenEDGE) as if he was standing still. The Colombian pressed home his advantage, arriving 26 seconds ahead of Weening and 44 in front of RTS’ Victor Nino, who was third overall last year. So strung out was the peloton that each of the top 16 riders arrived at the finish in separate times, with most several seconds apart.

Once the mist had settled, Arredondo emerged wearing yellow with a decisive 1:22 advantage over Weening, who in turn held a 48-second cushion over Pardilla. Game over, at least as far as the overall was concerned.

Theo Bos had to withdraw with reported food poisoning ahead of stage six, but his team were firing anything but Blancos as Tom Leezer won in conditions that were initially damp, then wet and finally monsoon-like. The Dutchman took his first win, in his sixth year as a pro, by overhauling Meyer’s attack from the day’s break and jumping clear in the final 7km to solo home.

After the energetic Meyer again featured in the following day’s breakaway, it turned out to be lucky stage seven for Guardini. The Astana sprinter got the jump on Chicchi to claim his 12th career Langkawi stage. Kruopis maintained his run of consistent results with his third third-place finish. The Lithuanian could perhaps lay claim to the nickname ‘The Eternal Third’.

Two wins for Coquard (image courtesy of Europcar)

Two wins for Coquard (image courtesy of Europcar)

However, Kruopis’ luck abandoned him altogether on stage eight, when an early crash in greasy conditions forced him to abandon ahead of another bunch gallop. The diminutive 58kg Coquard selected the right wheel from which to launch his sprint – Chicchi’s – to edge out OPQS’ British sprinter Andrew Fenn.

In addition to Kruopis, Orica-GreenEDGE lost Wesley Sulzberger and Luke Durbridge prior to stage nine with suspected food poisoning, with Blanco losing Leezer and Jos Van Emden to similar complaints as several others failed to start or complete the day. Coquard claimed his second consecutive win, this time using Astana’s Allan Davis as his inadvertent lead-out before holding off the fast-finishing Chicchi.

However, Chicchi would not be denied a second win. On the tenth and final circuit stage around Kuala Terengganu, the Vini Fantini rider duly took victory ahead of Synergy Baku’s Rico Rogers and Blanco’s Graeme Brown as the sprinters enjoyed one final hurrah.

Throughout all this Arredondo, with a lead in excess of a minute and ably protected by his Nippo team, rode on serenely and was never seriously threatened as the second half of the parcours offered little peril other than wet roads and food poisoning. The young Colombian will never enjoy an easier ride to what was nonetheless a well-deserved victory.

Chicchi overhauled Guardini, who was unwell for the last couple of days, to take the sprint jersey, while Wang finished as both the best Asian rider and King of the Mountains. MTN-Qhubeka won the team prize, as well as placing Pardilla on the bottom step of the podium.

Analysis & opinion

Arredondo was the race's outstanding climber (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Arredondo was the race’s outstanding climber (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

For the fifth year in a row, the Tour de Langkawi was won by a South American climber on a relatively small team. 24-year old Julian Arredondo clearly had the best legs on the climbs, finishing second behind Meiyin Wang‘s solo break in the Cameron Highlands and dominating the Genting climb himself. A second-year pro, he had already shown his climbing prowess on last year’s Tour of Japan, where he finished second overall behind Nippo teammate Fortunato Baliani (who finished seventh here), winning a mountain stage at Shinshu and finishing second behind Baliani in the Mount Fuji time trial.

It was good to see the Asian teams making the most of their opportunity to rub shoulders with the big boys on the European teams. Even though their sprinters were outgunned, they animated every stage by hurling riders repeatedly into breakaways. And in Wang, who ultimately finished fifth, we may just have seen the start of a Chinese revolution in world cycling. With their resources and the population, it is surely only a matter of time before we see a Chinese rider winning a stage or a jersey at a decent European race.

As for the sprints, the presence of more of the big European teams prevented a one-man show. Blanco will once again have been delighted with their early season form. Theo Bos had the upper hand until his retirement and Tom Leezer‘s win gilded the lily. But both Coquard and Chicchi will be delighted with two wins each, while Guardini and even the winless Kruopis can be happy with the consistency of their performances.

While Bos was clearly a level above the others it was interesting to see Coquard’s emergence in the second half of the race as the Olympic track silver medalist showed excellent positional sense and a feel for whose wheel he needed to follow. It will be intriguing to see how well he can mix it in the bigger stage races where he will come up against the heavy-hitters of sprinting.

All in all, this was one of the more interesting Tours de Langkawi, despite the battle for the overall being effectively sealed by its mid-point. If the trend towards having more WorldTour teams continues, this can only be good for raising the profile of both the event and as an opportunity for the region’s star riders to test themselves against the best in the world.

General classification

1. Julian Arredondo (Nippo-De Rosa) 34:53:07

2. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:15

3. Sergio Pardilla (MTN-Qhubeka) +2:10

4. Peter Stetina (Garmin-Sharp) +2:30

5. Meiyin Wang (Hengxiang) +2:40

6. Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) +2:43

7. Fortunato Baliani (Synergy-Baku) +2:49

8. John Ebsen (Nippo-De Rosa) +2:55

9. Tsgabu Grmay (MTN-Qhubeka) +2:58

10. Amir Kolahdozhagh (Tabriz Petrochemical) same time

Links: PreviewOfficial website

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

What’s happening in November?

With the season over, there’s no racing to look forward to until the 2013 calendar kicks off in January Down Under. However, we’ll still be busy here at VeloVoices, looking back at 2012 (and dipping even further back into the history books), ahead to 2013 and bringing you the very best interviews and features as usual.

However, let’s kick off our look forward to the next month with our usual selection of some of the more notable birthdays in the peloton.

This month’s birthdays

5th: Matt Goss, Orica-GreenEDGE (26 years old). After his breakthrough year in 2011, when he won Milan-San Remo and stages at Paris-Nice and the Tour of California, no less a rival than former HTC-Highroad teammate Mark Cavendish identified him as one of the few sprinters he feared. But things never quite came together for the Aussie in 2012, with a stage at the Giro his only individual victory. At the Tour de France he raced consistently but never quite had the firepower to outgun Cav, Sagan and Greipel, registering two seconds and three thirds.

With Cav gone, can Swift become Sky’s lead sprinter for 2013? (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

5th: Ben Swift, Sky (25). Another sprinter who followed up a promising 2011 with a mediocre 2012, Swift has all the raw potential to succeed Mark Cavendish as Sky’s lead sprinter but has yet to put it all together. He won the scratch race at the Track World Championships and added two silvers, but on the road his only notable wins came at the Tour of Poland, where he bagged a brace of stages and the points jersey. At the Vuelta he was blown away by John Degenkolb, registering only a second and a third place.

6th: Thomas De Gendt, Vacansoleil-DCM (26). Unlike Goss and Swift, De Gendt improved on the potential he displayed in 2011, when he won stages at Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse. Although he missed the Tour de France to get married, he again won at Paris-Nice and recorded a stunning solo victory on the Stelvio at the Giro, which helped put him on the bottom step of the podium. He nearly repeated the fear at the Vuelta at the summit of Cuitu Nigru, but was beaten at the last by Dario Cataldo.

10th: Amets Txurruka, formerly Euskaltel-Euskadi (30). The Basque rider has been released after six hard-working seasons in which he registered only two victories in minor races. His best results have come at the Tour de France, where he narrowly missed out on wins in 2007 and 2009 and was the most combative rider overall in 2007, where he finished 23rd – which still stands as his best Grand Tour result. In 2012 he started all three three-week races, finishing 42nd in the Giro and 30th in the Vuelta after abandoning the Tour.

13th: Laurens Ten Dam, Rabobank (32). The hirsute Dutch climber, affectionately known as the Wolf Man, has often ridden in support of others during his career but has recorded a stage win at the Criterium International as well as top ten finishes at the Tour de Suisse, Tour of California and Volta a Catalunya. This year he rode both the Tour and the Vuelta, finishing 28th in the former and an impressive eighth in the latter – his first ever top 20 Grand Tour finish.

Nibali rode with panache, but missed out on several big wins (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

14th: Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Cannondale (28). The ‘Shark of Messina’ added third place at the Tour to his 2010 Vuelta win and pair of Giro podium finishes. A strong climber and a demon descender, wherever Nibali appeared this year a daring attack was sure to follow. One such surge saw him fall just short at Milan-San Remo, where he finished third. But he was also second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and won a stage and the overall at a punishing Tirreno-Adriatico.

16th: Mikel Astarloza, Euskaltel-Euskadi (33). The Basque rider originally rode for AG2R before joining his ‘home’ team in 2007. A strong stage race rider, his only professional individual victories are the overall at the 2003 Tour Down Under and a stage at the Tour de France in 2009. He finished in the top 20 at the Tour in three consecutive years (2007-9), with a best of ninth overall in 2007. Since returning from an EPO ban in August 2011, he placed 48th in the Vuelta this September.

24th: Luis Leon Sanchez, Rabobank (29). The Spanish national time trial champion in four of the last five years, Sanchez has just completed the most successful year of his career with nine victories including his second Clasica San Sebastian and stages at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie (two) and the Tour de France. A past Paris-Nice and Tour Down Under winner, he has four Tour stage victories and placed tenth overall at both the Tour and Vuelta in 2010.

Ivan Basso (image courtesy of Liquigas)

Basso never quite hit the heights in 2012 (image courtesy of Liquigas)

26th: Ivan Basso, Liquigas-Cannondale (35). Now entering the twilight of his career, the veteran Italian took his only victory of the year in the season-ending Japan Cup. One of the big favourites to add a third Giro win to his 2006 and 2010 titles, he lacked explosiveness on the big climbs and could only finish fifth. He has previously won six stages at the Giro and one at the Tour, as well as the overall at the Criterium International (2006) and Giro del Trentino (2009).

26th: Bauke Mollema, Rabobank (26). A promising young climber, the Dutch rider claimed the points jersey at the 2011 Vuelta en route to fourth overall to cap a season in which he was fifth at the Tour de Suisse and top-ten at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya. His most prominent 2012 results were third overall at the Tour of the Basque Country and seventh at the late-season one-day Classic Il Lombardia.

27th: Francesco Chicchi, Omega Pharma-Quick Step (32). The under-23 world road race champion back in 2002, the Italian is now a hugely experienced sprinter with over 30 professional victories to his name. He started 2012 in blistering form, racking up five wins including a brace at the Tour de San Luis by mid-March but could not add to his tally thereafter, with just a single second-place finish at the Giro.

And don’t forget …

Look out for plenty of exclusive features over the next month, kicking off with our interview with Orica-GreenEDGE directeur sportif Lionel Marie tomorrow (Friday).

Later in November, we will bring you our comprehensive round-table looking back over an exciting – and sometimes controversial – year of racing. And then we will turn things over to you as we ask you to vote for inaugural annual VeloVoices Awards – your chance to make your opinions heard in a variety of serious and not-so-serious categories. (Sorry, but there won’t be a big black-tie dinner where you can meet and greet your heroes – at least, not this year!)

Of course, we’ll still be bringing you our regular favourites: Tweets of the Week on Tuesdays and our Friday Features. And look out for more posts celebrating rider birthdays and delving into the rich history of cycling over the next few weeks.

And if that still isn’t enough for you, follow our Facebook page and Twitter for even more great images, discussion and banter.

Whether serious or light-hearted, VeloVoices is the place to come for all the latest cycling news and views! Pro cycling for fans, by fans.