After the breakaway stole the show and the day ended with a rider being disqualified from the race for fighting, the drama and intrigue continued on stage 4 of the Tour de Langkawi. The flat sprinters day was on paper the calm before the storm - a chance to rest the legs before the queen stage 5 to Cameron Highlands.
Although stage 4 was won in a sprint by Riccardo Minali of Astana, it was a day with ramifications for the general classification, particularly for Dimension Data, who have lost Mekseb Debesay from the race after he crashed and fractured his pelvis.
Debesay was the stage winner at Cameron Highlands last year and had started stage 4 of the race in seventh place and within reach of Adam de Vos' yellow jersey come Thursday afternoon. That all came crashing down with 4.5km to race into Pekan when Debesay was involved in a fall.
"Unfortunately, Mekseb was not able to continue as a result of the crash," Dimension Data team Doctor Dirk Tenner said in a release. "We can confirm Mekseb has sustained no life-threatening injuries. He is conscious and talking, but he needs to undergo further medical examination at the hospital in Kuala Lumpur to reveal the full extent of his injuries."
A statement from the race following the stage confirmed the pelvis injury for the 26-year-old, who was helicoptered to the capital.
Race leader De Vos was a witness to the crash, but when speaking to Cyclingnews and Eurosport after gathering his yellow jersey on the podium, he did not know Debesay was a DNF.
"I saw him crash hard. It was a really scary moment so I hope he is OK because he went down hard. I came close to going down also but managed to ride through it and stay up. It was a scary moment because it was outside three kilometres to go. I hope he is OK and he doesn't have serious injuries," De Vos said
Dimension Data have won the last three editions of the Tour de Langkawi, and while Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier and Scott Davies are well placed to try a move on Cameron Highlands, the team is on the back foot with the loss of Debesay.
De Vos' overall aspirations have been assisted by the change in circumstances, but the 24-year-old Canadian knows it is far from race won with four stages to come.
"I am going to give it my all on the climb and what happens happens. My legs felt better than expected today. It is hard with the road rash and heat. You don't recover so well but now I feel ok," said De Vos who is still sporting bandages after crashing on stage 1. "Hopefully tomorrow I get some extra wings or watts from the yellow jersey."
The battle for the overall isn't just between Dimension Data and Rally, with Nik Mohd Hazwan Zulkiflie (Forca Amskins) in second and Harry Sweeny (Mitchelton-BikeExchange) in third place, two riders sure to throw their hats in the ring with the support of their teams.
Despite taking two wins now with Minali, Astana's focus remains the overall classification with first-year neo-pro Yevgeniy Gidich. Having had the team support him on the flat, Minali will turn domestique for his Kazak teammate and believes Astana will be a threat to the overall.
"Our objective is the general with Gidich. We have also the green jersey and we try to come back to Italy with the green jersey and the yellow jersey with Gidich," Minali said.
While the Cameron Highlands stage will be decisive in the general classification, it is also the only hilltop finish in the race. For the pure climbers such as John Ebsen (Forca Amskins), Ben Dyball (St George) and the Androni duo of Luca Chirico and Kevin Rivera, the stage is their main objective of the race.
With riders chasing the stage win and GC, the multiple agendas could create further chaos on the mountain and turn the race on its head once again.
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