Culey was the sole remnant of a four-rider breakaway that formed on the descent of the first KOM positioned inside the first 20 kilometres of the 176.9km opening stage, which started at the base of the iconic Petronas twin towers in Kuala Lumpur.
“I’ve been training here for the last couple of weeks, so I knew the first corner after we come down the KOM,” Culey explained to Eurosport following the win. “I just sat on the top tube and got a bit ahead of the bunch. I think everyone sort of braked into that corner and I just took it with a bit of speed. Then the bunch fanned out across the road and next thing I knew we were in the break.
“The gap went out really quickly, really easily,” he continued. “I just told everyone to keep calm … so we waited until the gap started coming down and just rode harder and harder and harder.
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“Brendon Davids was so strong today. I wouldn’t have stayed away without the work he did. The heat just gets to everyone and he sort of blew up with 20k to go. I knew it was go then or never.”
Langkawi’s all-time leading stage winner Andrea Guardini (Bardiani-CSF) admitted before the race that adding to his record haul would not be an easy task considering the Stage 1 parcours and competitive 22-team, 131-rider start list.
“As much as I can, I’ll avoid putting unnecessary pressures on myself, like setting targets in each stage,” explained the 29-year-old Italian, who won two of his record 24 stage wins in last year’s edition. “Each year, the race and stages pose different challenges.
“Furthermore, prior to flying in here, I accumulated only nine racing days and insufficient mileage. However, I regained my confidence after the recent win at the Trofi Istria,” the former Astana sprinter continued. “I feel good and ready for a good show in LTdL.”
After taking all three intermediate sprints and valuable bonus time, Davids (Oliver’s Real Food Racing) ended the day second on both points and general classification behind Culey despite finishing 39th in the select bunch sprint finish led by stage runner-up American Travis McCabe (Floyd’s Pro Cycling).
Davids, who finished seventh on the final GC at last year’s race while riding for Bennelong-SwissWellness, also helped Oliver’s team-mate and fellow break-mate Angus Lyons (AUS) top the mountains classification in red.
“Kudos to Marcus, he left it all out there and at the end of the day,” Davids told Eurosport. “I reckon he was the strongest out of all of us today. I think Angus and I maybe overcooked it a bit trying to get him those [KOM] points.
“Hopefully I can surf the wheels a bit before Genting,” he continued referring to the return of the infamous hors categorié climb on Stage 4 after four years off the race route. “I am more of a [time trial] type rider. I lost a bit of weight from last year and hopefully I can TT my way from the bottom to the top and limit my losses to the climbers and find other opportunities.”
The eight-stage race resumes on Sunday with a 200.6km outing from Senawang to Melaka in what is expected to be a bunch sprint finish.
For full stage and race results, click here.
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