While there might be some grumblings of discontent amongst fans about today's stage winner of the Tour de Langkawi, the real race was behind him. That race was between some of the future stars of cycling.
Merhawi Kudus (MTN-Qhubeka), Isaac Bolivar (UnitedHealthcare) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) finished second, third and fourth respectively on stage 4. All are in their first year as professionals, with this being the first race for both Kudus and Chaves.
The Eritrean Kudus was the one to ignite things on the final climb, forcing many out the back. "When we got to the bottom of the climb, everybody was tired and I just decided to go by myself," he said. "When I attacked at the beginning of the climb, the whole race was behind me and he (Pourseyedi Golakhour) followed me. 15km to go alone is difficult. I am really happy because this is the first race for me as a professional. I am really happy."
Kudus is only 20-years-old and joined MTN-Qhubeka at the beginning of this season. He spent 2013 as a stagiaire for Bretagne-Séché Environment and rode with the World Cycling Centre, with whom he won a stage of the Tour of Eritrea and the overall classification of the Tour de Côte d'Or. If stage four of the Tour de Langkawi is anything to go by, we can expect much more from this young rider.
Behind the Eritrean was, unsurprisingly, a Colombian. The Colombians have been returning to their former glories on the mountains and Bolivar added even more depth to that resurgence. He was very active on the final climb too, doing much to try and rid himself of his companions.
Bolivar was one of the lucky 31 to make the split and says he was still in good condition at the top of the climb, but it was his speed that let him down. "I spoke with my director who said relax, only attack with three kilometres today," he said to Cyclingnews as he waited to step onto the podium. "So I said ok, no problem. When we got to the first Col my legs were very good. In the final kilometres, my sprint was not good. Third place in the general is good today and it is possible to win the next race."
There is still an opportunity for him to walk away from the race with more than just third in the classification. Currently Bolivar is only a point behind Matt Brammeier (Synergy Baku) in the mountains classification. With 40 points still available in the competition, there is still everything to play for.
Bolivar's compatriot Esteban Chaves' result was equally as impressive, for the fact that this is his first race back since suffering an injury that almost ended his career. The 23-year-old cut an exhausted figure at the finish, saying that his legs didn't feel good in the final, but he was just happy to have achieved a solid placing.
"I am really happy. It's incredible this result, after one year with no races and no good training," he told Cyclingnews, once he'd caught his breath back from the tough finish. "I want to say thank you to the guys, Shanye (Bannan), Alvaro (Crespi) and Neil (Stephens) for the opportunity in this team. This is one to say thank you."
Cyclingnews had an in depth talk with Chaves about his comeback, which you will be able to read later today.
Also in the top 10 was 23-year-old Gianfranco Zilioli (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) who finished 59 seconds behind the winner, who had a prolific 2013 with nine victories. These four are surely riders for the future and we may see them doing battle in the Grand Tours not too far in the future.
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