Andrea Guardini has found the way to success again at Le Tour de Langkawi where he launched his career as a sprinter with five stage wins on Malaysian soil last year, but a question arose after the opening 20.3km time trial: has Jose Rujano (Androni-Venezuela) already won the overall title, given that he recorded the fifth fastest time and only conceded nine seconds to the other race favorite Tom Danielson?
At the start of stage 2 in Putrajaya, the home of the Malaysian government, Androni-Venezuela team manager Gianni Savio was prompt to firmly reply: “No!”
“Rujano’s performance in the time trial is a good result but not a victory”, the “Prince” insisted. “[Race leader] David Zabriskie has demonstrated that he’s in great shape and he’s got an advantage of 1:26 over Jose. He’s able to defend himself in the new version of the ascent to Genting Highlands that has really steep gradients in its last five kilometres but before that, it’s just up and down. The second factor is that Danielson has managed to ride an excellent time trial too and he’s ahead of Rujano on GC. He’s got a slim advantage but an advantage nonetheless.”
After maintaining a low profile, which is not unusual and also reflects his humility, Savio continued by commenting: “Our results in the time trial are definitely good. I’m not only happy about Rujano but all our six guys. We came here with climbers only and the six of them have finished this flat time trial in the top 35.”
The Italian stated that the time trial hasn’t determined which one of the past three winners of Le Tour de Langkawi in his line-up would be the team captain. It was already decided it would be Rujano, who won the event in 2010, rather than his predecessor on the record book Jose Serpa from Colombia and his successor and compatriot Yonathan Monsalve.
“Rujano was always going to have the leadership for this race,” Savio said. “We determined that before coming to Malaysia, even though we kept options open depending on how the time trial went.” Rujano explained that he came to Malaysia with a lot of confidence despite having not raced before now this season. “I only have 1800 kilometres of riding done on my road bike,” he told Cyclingnews.
“But I’ve done my best work ever to prepare for my road season with four months of gym work and mountain bike. That’s why I’m physically ready for this race. I really had a good time trial. I thought I would loose between 30 and 50 seconds to the time trialists and I lost more to Zabriskie – 1.26. But Garmin’s strongest rider is Danielson. If I have good legs in Genting, I believe that I can make up the nine-second difference we have now.”
“We made it clear at the team meeting that Genting Highlands wasn’t the only stage to be contested,” Savio revealed. “Serpa is known for being unbeaten at Genting. He won it on three occasions but he won the overall classification of Le Tour de Langkawi only once. People might forget that he claimed his first pro win with us here in 2006 after an eleventh hour UCI registration and a long and tiring trip from South America to Asia. It was a flat stage [to Kuala Selangor] and he repeated his success the day after in Genting Highlands. It means that Serpa can impact the race on both flat and hilly stages.”
Serpa was a late addition to Androni-Venezuela’s line up due to the cancellation of the Italian races where he performed so well one year ago [2nd overall at the Giro di Sardegna and winner of the Giro del Friuli]. “The history of Le Tour de Langkawi teaches us that cycling is a fascinating sport,” continued Savio, who is paying his 12th visit to Malaysia. “It’s pretty unpredictable. A breakaway on the flat can change the face of the race. If ten riders go to the front, who will be pulling behind? That’s why our five pure climbers, Rujano included, have the mission to enter breakaways one after the other if the circumstances of the race are favorable. As a paradox, the only one in our team who is not allowed to break away is Alessandro De Marchi, who always does so at other races. He is sacrificed to protected Rujano in the bunch.”
Savio recalled that he held “a non-cordial team meeting” after stage 1 in the Tour de San Luis this year because only one of his riders – Serpa – followed his instructions and entered the decisive breakaway. “We usually bring a sprinter here but this time around we didn’t because we’re only focused on winning GC”, Savio added. “We expect the Farnese Vini team to block and control the race because Guardini has the possibility to establish a new record of stage wins.” Last year, Guardini equalled the score of five stage wins previously set by Graeme Brown and Alberto Loddo.