Andrea Guardini ended his UAE Team Emirates contract a year early to sign with Bardiani-CSF in an attempt to recapture his winning form. In Kulim, the 28-year-old further underlined his status as 'Mr Langkawi', sprinting to stage win number 23 at the Malaysian stage race. Incidentally, the Tour de Langkawi is enjoying its 23rd edition in 2018.
Guardini ended the 2016 edition of the race with stage wins in Parit Sulong and Melaka over Jakub Mareczko but then missed the race last year. His win to open the 2018 edition of the race and his tally with Bardiani-CSF makes it three straight, coming 746 days later and 491km north of his last.
"It was a crazy race because in the final 30km we were all together with no breakaway and in the finale, Manzana Postobon with [Sebastian] Molano tried to bring him to the front but with Paolo Simion we tried to find the correct position kilometre-by-kilometre, and we found the perfect position with 500 metres to go," Guardini told Cyclingnews, dissecting the finale of the stage.
"He led me out to 200 metres and then I sprinted. It was prefect work."
With Bardiani-CSF, Guardini has taken a step down from the WorldTour but, in riders such as Simion, the 28-year-old has teammates who he trusts and is confident in their ability to do the job.
"Every race is different but it is really important to have a lead-out guy for the finale," Guardini said. "I found a really powerful and nice guy like Paolo Simion and I am really confident with him. With him we can do a really good job here and maybe at the other races as well.
"The team is really important and it is one of the things I changed the team for. You need to be confident with your teammates and be close with them as well. Here, I am really happy and we try to improve day-by-day for some other more important races."
The opening stage of the eight-day race, on paper, was one the easiest in 2018 for the fast men, with only limited climbing. The temperature, peaking at 48 degrees according to Guardini, ensured a tough day, though, and the "confusing" finale meant there was no guarantee of victory.
However, the "perfect" work of Simion and the luck of missing the crash that felled Sebastian Molano inside the final kilometre set up the win for Guardini and, after two years of missing that winning feeling, he was back on the top step of the podium. There was also the small matter of staying up late to watch former teammate Vincenzo Nibali win Milan-San Remo that spurred him on.
"If you don't take the victories the feelings are not so good. If you are so close to the victory, you do second, third, it is not the same," he said. "Like in Abu Dhabi I was feeling good and I was second but every time if you are so close to the victory, you miss something. Anyway, I understand that now cycling is improving and every year it is so hard to win races. Every rider, everywhere you can find a stronger guy. Here in Langkawi I can feel the difference from 2011 to now because the race is improving and always cycling is improving."
With 23 stage wins in the pocket, every win herein simply extends Guardini's hold on the record. Should he retain the yellow jersey after stage 2, he will also take the record as the rider with the most days in the leader's yellow jersey - another record and a confidence booster for 'Mr Langkawi'.
"It will be hard tomorrow but we will try to keep the jersey. After the climbs we will see where we are and we'll try to be in the peloton and sprint again," said Guardini, who was dropped on the corresponding stage in 2015 won by Caleb Ewan.