Italian extends race record to 12 stage wins
It was a case of seventh-time lucky for Andrea Guardini who notched up his 12th stage victory at Tour de Langkawi on Stage 7 from Kuantan to Dungun, earning his first win of the year and that of his Astana Pro Team. The win along the east coast of the Malaysia was in many ways the sweetest yet, since he has not won a professional race since taking home three stages at Tour of Qinghai Lake in July last year.
Waiting until Stage 7 to bag the first win was something of a surprise for Guardini, who achieved a record haul of stage victories in just two participations - 2011 and 2012. Guardini had already come close on three occasions taking a 3rd (Stage 1), 2nd (Stage 2) and 2nd (Stage 4) but he finally got everything right on the straight run to the line of the 149.8km stage.
Wearing the blue points jersey, which he has won for the past two years, has been somewhat of a consolation up until now, according to the 23-year-old who took six stage wins at Langkawi in 2012 to eclipse the Graeme Brown of his former nine-stage record.
"I'm wearing the blue jersey but I like this," said Guardini moments after taking his 12th win in Malaysia. "It's so, so good," he added.
"My weight has come down by one kilo, my condition is so good. After the Giro d'Italia [in 2012] I have grown up, and have better total condition with my body.
"Now, I'm winning and this is the result because my condition is very good."
The addition of five World Tour teams has meant that despite Guardini's winning ability, any mistake in the finale has cost him the win. Arguably the departure of Theo Bos (Blanco) due to illness has opened-up the sprints, however nothing can dispute the Italian's impressive record at the 2.HC race.
"With the ProTeams there is real fight to take position in the last kilometre, it is very strong. The guys are much stronger and the speed in the final kilometre is so high," said Guardini.
The win in Langkawi marks not only Guardini's first win of the year but it is also the first for his new Astana team. Guardini signed for the Kazakh outfit at the end of 2012, having picked up 10 wins during the season, including beating Mark Cavendish on Stage 18 at the Giro d'Italia, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was his first professional win such was the young sprinter's reaction after the stage, voicing his delight long after crossing the line.
"This is my first victory here with the Astana team and it's a powerful team. It's so, so good. It's been so many months without winning which is not so simple for a sprinter - especially for me.
"I'm very, very happy to make the first victory of the year for this team," he added.