The first reshuffling of the general classification at Le Tour de Langkawi may have thrown up an unexpected winner atop Cameron Highlands on stage 3 but Garmin Sharp's Peter Stetina demonstrated he's in contention for the overall when he crossed the hill-top finish line with the group containing the majority of the race favourites.
Stetina and teammate Nathan Haas were part of the 25-man group that finished more than three minutes behind the day's winner Meiyin Wang (Hengxiang Cycling Team) despite a serious chase from the main field to try and reduce the eight-minute deficit that remained just 20km before the finish in the town of Brinchang.
"The second climb was the hardest but it was all pretty wide road and there was a headwind for a lot of it so it was easier to follow," Stetina told Cyclingnews. "We tried a few moves here and there and I had Nathan there still. He was covering a lot of it and I had to take some pulls myself."
While the group led across the line by Haas, who finished third, was unable to catch Wang the result doesn't spell the end of Stetina's or Haas' GC ambitions - even with more than three minutes to make up on the new yellow jersey wearer. The next real test will come on the Genting Highlands stage in two days' time, according to the 25-year-old American.
"He [Wang] was going pretty fast up there because we had Omega use their whole team and Vini Fantini blew their whole team and then we put our team on the front and the gap wasn't coming down," said Stetina.
"It started coming down and we thought it was no worries and then all of a sudden the gap raised three minutes and we all thought it was a mess-up from the time officials. But it kept going up!
"Kudos to him for going so fast," he said.
Steadily building his career as a potential Grand Tour rider, Stetina had earmarked Langkawi as one of his early season goals. It's what kept him motivated through the off-season and while he currently sits 3:38 behind the race lead, his team was one of the strongest during the stage and will be giving it everything when the race finishes atop the next HC climb on Stage 5 to Genting.
"We'll see how he's [Wang] climbing in the field. He did a big effort today," said Stetina.
"This is a goal in itself for me. I did my homework this winter so we'll see what we can do. There's still another climbing day to go. Today wasn't really that selective. A lot of guys were just getting the feeling in their legs, testing everyone else out.
"I think Genting is going to be something different from what I hear though."
Following on from Langkawi Stetina hopes to continue his progression as one of Garmin Sharp's GC riders at the Grand Tours. Last year he was part of the team that led Ryder Hesjedal to a historic win at the Giro d'Italia, but this year may serve up something different. Riding the Giro, where he's finished just outside the top-20 for the past two years is highly likely, but he didn't rule out the possibility of also making the Tour de France team.
"I like to think of myself as a Grand Tour-type of rider. I would like to do the Giro and maybe the Tour [de France], too, but we will see."
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