When Mekseb Debesay crashed out of the Tour de Langkawi, Dimension Data were forced to reshuffle the deck and create a 'plan B'. The team came into the race as the winners of the overall since 2014 but were forced onto the back foot with the loss of last year's Cameron Highlands stage winner.
A day after the crash, Debesay's Eritrean compatriot Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier stepped up to the plate with third on stage 5 to Cameron Highlands and announced himself as the team's GC leader - a podium place within reach of the African Continental champion.
Stage 6 was a day for the sprinters, and so stage 7 - with six categorised climbs - was the best opportunity for Dimension Data to try and improve the 23-year-old's fourth place, one second off third place.
With South African's Johann Van Zyl and Jaco Venter, Dimension Data helped light the fuse on a dramatic day of racing to Maur that ended with the rearranging of bar one place in the top-10 overall. However, it was race leader Artem Ovechkin holding his yellow jersey while Ghebreigzabhier dropped to sixth and 28 seconds off the podium. For all Dimension Data's aggressive and tactical racing, there was little reward on the finish line.
"It looked like everybody was saving their energy for today instead of the mountain stage," Venter told Cyclingnews after finishing fifth in the breakaway, 1:28 minutes ahead of the chase group that contained Ghebreigzabhier.
"It was quite crazy from the start. It was going all the time with no control. We would have liked to have had Amanuel in the group with us but that didn't happen. Me and Johann were policing the breakaway and making sure no one got away. I don't know what happened behind. It was chaos on the radio.
"Johann tried to attack close to the end and almost made it but I was not fast enough in the sprint. It is a pity as it would have been a good opportunity today to do something but at least we didn't lose overall," added Venter of the stage won by Manuel Belletti.
Unsure exactly where first-year neo-pro Ghebreigzabhier sat on the GC in the immediate aftermath, as he recovered from the five-hour stage, Venter explained the team goal is to ensure the best possible GC result. Fourth place for Ghebreigzabhier is likely the best possible outcome for the team. Ending the team's three-year hold on the yellow jersey.
"We would like to move up a spot and we would also don't want to lose a spot either. We have to be careful tomorrow and it is quite an exciting finish I guess for third place. First and second is I think a bit out of reach," added Venter.
"It would have been nice to win Langkawi again. We've had a good run the last three years and if Mekseb were here it would have been different. He was a big loss."
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