As he outsprinted new race leader Darren Lapthorne at the end of stage 5 in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Pandan Indah, José Serpa (Androni-Venezuela) remembered that his first victory at Le Tour de Langkawi also happened on a flat stage finish in Kuala Selangor only a few days after signing his first professional contract with Gianni Savio. “The day after, I won again but in totally different conditions at the top of Genting Highlands,” the 32-year-old Colombian recalled. “I hope to do it again tomorrow.”
“I was in a chasing group and I saw the opportunity to jump on to the lone leader [Lapthorne],” Serpa explained. “It makes me very happy because it’s my first victory since I became a father of two last year. People know me as a climber but many forget that my background is actually the one of a track rider. That’s why I can be quite fast on such a flat finish. This is my seventh win in Malaysia.”
Of these seven wins, three were collected at the top of Genting Highlands, where he is unbeaten so far (he won in 2006, 2007 and 2009 but the gruelling climb wasn’t on the route of the 2008 edition), three on the flat, as he also won solo with one kilometer to go from a breakaway group in stage 6 to Kuala Rompin on the East Coast in 2008. The seventh win is his overall title in 2009. He hadn’t returned to Le Tour de Langkawi since and he only did so this year because the Italian races where he performed last year (2nd in the Giro di Sardegna and winner of the Giro del Friuli) were cancelled, so his race program changed.
Wednesday’s stage 6 to Genting Highlands will surprisingly put side by side for the first time the two most successful climbers from South America nurtured by Savio in the past decade. Serpa will join forces with Le Tour de Langkawi’s hot favorite José Rujano from Venezuela on Malaysia’s gruelling climb.
“They get on very well together”, Savio said. “But they have never been in the situation to race together for the win yet. Serpa arrived in our team in 2006 just after Rujano left. When Rujano came back last year, they weren’t on form at the same time. Serpa performed in the first part of the year but not in the mountains of the Giro d’Italia where Rujano was brilliant.”
Serpa came close to the win (third) on stage 5 to Orvieto after riding on the “Strade Bianche” and he was fourth on stage 11 won by John Gadret in Castelfidardo but he didn’t have the legs to climb as well as Rujano, who won stage 13 to the Grossglockner and also finished second behind Alberto Contador on stage 9 to Etna and Vassil Kiriyenka on stage 20 to Sestriere.
Nobody would be surprised to see the South American climbers emerge hand in hand atop Genting Highlands like Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond at the 1986 Tour de France on l’Alpe d’Huez, with Serpa remaining unbeaten and Rujano taking the overall title of Le Tour de Langkawi for the second time after 2010. But Savio downplayed this kind of prediction.
“We are in a good situation with two cards to play,” the team manager of the Androni-Venezuela squad said of his two riders, who are separated by 22 seconds on GC. “But firstly, we have to attack Tom Danielson who still has the advantage of nine seconds from the time trial on day 1. We’ve been in this situation against him once before in 2003 but our climber Hernan Dario Munoz couldn’t drop him off his wheel. We won the stage but Danielson won GC. It seems like Danielson has recovered from his injury here on stage 3.”