Langkawi: Riccardo Minali takes stage, lead in Kota Bharu

Langkawi: Minali takes stage, lead in Kota Bharu

19/03/2018 at 12:24Updated 19/03/2018 at 12:41

Italian Riccardo Minali claimed a sprint victory on second stage along border town of 23rd Le Tour de Langkawi ...

The 23rd edition of Le Tour de Langkawi (UCI 2.HC) traced its way along the border of Malaysia and Thailand with Astana sprinter Riccardo Minali taking the victory in a split-field sprint finish in Kota Bharu following the second longest stage (208.3km) of the eight-day Asia Tour road race.

With a Grand Tour stage-winning bloodline, the 22-year-old whose father Nicola won multiple stages at the Vuelta a España (seven), Tour de France (three) and Giro d’Italia (two), proved his pedigree atop an all-Italian podium which included Matteo Malucelli (Androni Giocattoli—Sidermec) and Paolo Simion (Bardiani-CSF).

“Finally, I succeeded to do a straight sprint,” Minali told Tuttobici. “My teammates were very good in the last turn and [Ruslan] Tleubayev did turn all by himself from minus two kilometres to minus one.”

“I need to thank a lot them,” he continued. “I hope this is the first of many victories. I feel so good, so happy and now I try to bring home more victories before coming back home to Europe and then try to win there also.”

It was the second straight day the field was plagued by stifling conditions, but according to Minali it was his team’s support that helped pull him across the climbs and regain contact with the lead group.

“I’m not so good with the hot weather actually,” explained Minali, who won his first race at just six years of age. “It was very hot today — like 45 degrees — and very humid, but legs felt very powerful. I had some troubles in the climb and just kept my pace and didn’t lose my mind.

“Thanks to my teammates I was able to make it back to the main group during the long descent.”

Minali’s neo-pro teammate Yevgeniy Gidich finished fourth to take over the ‘Best Asian Rider’ classification from Stage 1 runner up Joonyong Seo (KSPO—Bianchi Asia).

Stage 2 also marked the first of just two mountain stages, with the other coming on Stage 5 with what could be the race-deciding uphill finish in the Cameron Highlands.

“I am very happy to have to my teammate (Gidich) in the top 10 (sixth on GC, +0:07),” the Roubaix-bound Minali continued. “He is very strong. I will turn my focus to the green jersey.”

The recently retired 29-year-old Dane, who came back to race Langkawi for Forca-Amskins, instead rode support for teammate Alvaro Duarte who joined them.

The six-man breakaway stretched its lead to 2 minutes 40 seconds before being reeled in and caught with a 70km to go.

Although now 14 points down on the polka-dot jersey held by Suaza, the two-time Taiwan KOM Challenge winner vows the race is not over.

“It was a hard stage,” Ebsen told Eurosport. “I was trying to defend my jersey but it’s not easy and I went up against some faster riders, not much I could do. My teammate came up and he was also faster so I ended up working for him — overall it was a good day.

“I have two more stages in mind, so you are going to see me again — don’t worry.”

The race features two straight sprint stages before the queen stage on Thursday.

Photo: Mokhriz Aziz/LTDL2018