By Greg Johnson in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
After storming to victory in yesterday's stage three of the Tour de Langkawi, French Anthony Charteau has declared himself as a contender for this year's title. The Crédit Agricole rider went off the front early in yesterday's race, drawing a 10-minute margin over the peloton and storming on to win both King of the Mountains climbs and claim the overall victory by nearly four minutes.
"Considering the lead I have now, I will play to win overall. It's going to be hard; I don't know much about the Colombian rider who's now in second [on GC - Walter Pedraza - ed.], but I presume he climbs well," noted a relaxed Charteau after the race. "I'm not worried about the flat stages, though - at Crédit Agricole, we're used to riding hard on the flat."
Yesterday's victory, which saw the 26 year-old take a four minute lead on General Classification, put Charteau in the unexpected position as the team's leader, despite his view that his form isn't top yet. "Initially, I was here just to go with the breaks, because I'm not in the best shape just yet - I'm here for my team leader Francesco Bellotti. Our plan was to be in the first break, and on the first climb, wait for him [Bellotti] at the top to help him at the end. When it became obvious our advantage was significant, it was decided it was enough for me to keep going on my own after the first climb."
Moreover, the French ProTour team also leads the team classification, and four of its riders are still within five minutes from the top of GC, which might help Charteau in keeping his pole position in the mountains. "Clearly, Francesco Bellotti came here to win after finishing second in the Tour de Langkawi last year. We also had the intention of looking after Benoit Poilvet, who is riding really strongly after our off-season training camp. I'm not a bad climber myself so I can also play a role, and there's also William Bonnet who surprised everyone [today], because he's supposed to be a sprinter. The training camp we did here has paid off, and to have four riders in the top 25 will make things easier to defend the yellow jersey," the overall leader said.
On stage 8, the Tour of Langkawi will again tackle the dreaded Genting Highlands, which have traditionally played a major role in the outcome of the race. Charteau was confident about the challenge, but the team has also other cards to play. "On Genting, everything will depend on my condition on that day; it's true I have a good advantage, and that it might be possible to win overall. But if I don't, Francesco Bellotti is a really good climber and he likes these kind of gradients, like Genting - so if I'm not able to do it, he will," Charteau added.