Italian neo-pro Andrea Guardini has made an early mark on professional cycling, winning five stages of the Tour de Langkawi. The 21-year-old, riding for Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli, showed his tremendous speed in the 10-day tour which concluded with his fifth win in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Guardini started showing great promise on the track in 2007, winning the junior national championship in the team sprint in addition to an European championship in the Keirin the same year.
He continued on the road and track for the following two seasons before picking up a stage victory in the Baby Giro last year. He signed a professional contract with Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli not long after and has immediately made his mark on professional cycling.
His fifth victory ensured he equaled the record of stage wins in the one edition of the Tour de Langkawi. Only twice before have riders won five stages in the event – Australia's Graeme Brown in 2004 and Italian Alberto Loddo in 2007.
His victory also meant something else to the neo-pro, with his directeur sportif Giuliani Stefano promising to quit smoking if Guardini managed to win five stages.
"I'm very happy for Giuliani," said Guardini. "We had a bet after stage two that if I was going to win five stages, he would stop smoking. I waited for the 10th stage to make that happen, so I'm very happy about that," he added.
Guardini also picked up the points classification, defying a late charge by 2010 blue jersey winner Anuar Manan.
Guardini's real test will come in his next race, the Tour of Qatar, starting on February 6 when he competes against cycling's best sprinters - the likes of Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen plus countrymen Alessandro Petacchi and Daniele Bennati.
"I grew up watching the sprints of Mario Cipollini. I also quickly became a fan of Robbie McEwen and Mark Cavendish for the way they sprinted," explained Guardini.
"Pretty soon, five days from now, I will go to the Tour of Qatar and will sprint against some of them and I'm looking forward to sprinting against them after what I have achieved this week."
The Giro d'Italia may also be on Guardini's radar although he admits it will be difficult in his first year as a professional, even if his team receives an invitation to the May 7-29 race.
"I would like to ride the Giro, but it is going to be hard in my first year. We only have a small team of 20 riders and only nine can ride."