Telekom Malaysia Tour de Langkawi, Malaysia, January 28-February 6, 2005
The second half of the Tour de Langkawi decided the final overall classification and was another stage-winning haul for Panaria.
The day after the halfway mark (Stage 6) was a shorter stage of just over 150km but was definitely the fastest start to any of the 10 stages. After an hour of racing we had covered 49km. I, along with the entire field, tried to get in the early move but nothing went away. I'm sure every team's tactic for the day was to 'get in the early break'. Everything was back together and after a start like that, there is always an eventual haul in proceedings for a nature stop. The whole bunch stopped bar a few and once we got going again, the Japanese team along with Panaria controlled things at the front. They let three riders stroll off the front who were only ever going to waste legs fighting the inevitable bunch sprint. Sure enough, it came down to a bunch sprint and it Panaria AGAIN who took the stage win, this time being Bongiorno. My legs were feeling better now after a shaky start and I was even getting involved in the bunch kicks to help my team sprinter out.
Today (Stage 7) was another sprinter's delight but actually had some lumpy terrain. As normal, a break went from the gun with three riders in it and the Japanese controlled for 100km before Panaria chipped in for the last two hours to bring it back for another bunch kick. For us, Selle Italia, it was useless getting into a break as Barloworld was covering our every more, just in case the break did stay away and we gained some valuable time on the team classification. For some of the riders, it was becoming boring at times, with the same scenario day after day, but with two sprinters like Panaria have, why wouldn't you want a bunch kick?
As for the other teams with big GC contenders, they were all waiting for Genting Highlands, as we were. Teams with no GC riders and no real sprinters were left with nothing to race for. As for me, I was content to see how good Jose Rujano can climb Genting Highlands, and in the meantime, chew the fat with mates in the peloton and get a good tan. Brownie picked up another stage win to make it three stages this tour. This time, however, he left his charge for the line too late, only to have the win given to him by my team-mate. Brownie must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when Di Biase saluted too early and he slipped underneath for another win. My team-mate was absolutely devastated but a lesson learnt. As I have every night, I congratulated Brownie at dinner, but this time asked if he could've just given us the stage win, too greedy... ha, jokes mate!
Finally, the day has arrived... Genting Highlands. You should have seen the tension in the team meeting that morning, and even worse the silence afterwards when we didn't get the win. Selle Italia love this race, and love winning it. It means a lot for them and a lot for our chances for a wild card in the Giro d'Italia. We gave it everything as a team, and Rujano through everything at Ryan Cox, but Cox didn't even look like cracking. He was a well deserved winner. From the start our team took charge and we controlled the front of the peloton, letting three riders go and keeping them at about 2mins. As we hit Genting, a few of the boys called it a day and I rode 10km tempo up the start of the climb. After doing my job at the front I had a hard enough time just making time cut, with bad guts I had to stop for a few minutes for a, umm... relief. In the end, I lost 22mins and have put that day well at the back of my mind. Towards the top of the berg, Scarselli and Marlon Perez rode the front group down to 15 riders before Rujano went on to finish the job we started. He rode great, but like I said before, the best man won. Cox won the stage and got the jersey. Second will do though, and we have second on team GC behind Barloworld.
Day 9 on the map looked hard, but not too hard. By the end of the day I realised I should have looked more carefully at the profile. It was a hard day, up and down all day, with two Cat 2 climbs and a Cat 1, along with being the hottest day of the tour by far. After 25km, we hit the first Cat 2 climb and they raced hard from the bottom, splitting the bunch into many groups. By the time we hit the Cat 1, Marlon Perez was solo off the front as the two front groups reformed. The gruppetto never saw the peloton again and close to 20 riders pulled out. Marlon was joined by three riders over the top of the Cat 1, but 60km later it was all back together. It split again over the final Cat 2, but once again the bunch came back together and Panaria realised they had the only true sprinter left in the front group, Brownie. Panaria rode on the front to the finish to assure Brownie of his fourth stage finish. By the finish, there were a lot of sore legs in the dwindled main bunch and a lot of riders happy the tour was almost over.
The final stage around KL was fast and over and done with quickly. There was only one serious break of the race, and with Barloworld and Panaria on the front, they made sure nothing went too far. It was a bunch kick again and another Brown victory. Cox won the overall with Rujano second. Now it was time for Chinatown shopping and plenty of it. This year, on the shopping list was more DVDs, Playstation games, CDs, shoes, a watch, presents and a few shirts. It was a good way to unwind from my fourth Tour de Langkawi, while swimming in the hotel swimming pool opposite the KL Towers. Very hard indeed!