Melaka – Mohd Harrif Saleh of Terengganu Inc-TSG outsprinted hot favourite Andrea Guardini to become only the second ever Malaysian stage winner, after a bunch sprint ended Stage Two of the PETRONAS Le Tour de Langkawi 2019 from Senawang to Melaka today.
It was an emotional victory for the 30-year old, having come close but left biting the dust on a number occasions since his debut in the race as a 19-year old in 2008. The local fans were also given something to celebrate for the first time since Anuar Manan’s victory in Port Dickson in the 2010 edition of the race.
“I finished second once and last year I came third twice, but I have always dreamt of a stage win in this race, especially in front of the home fans,” said Harrif, who dedicated the victory to his wife Nursyahira Nordin, 27, who is expecting their second child after five years of marriage.
An 11-man breakaway set the tone earlier in the stage, which later disintegrated into a three-man push for the finish line which was eventually caught by the peloton led by TSG, the Sapura team of yellow jersey holder Marcus Culey and the Bardiani-CSF team of record LTdL stage winner Guardini, with 25km to go.
In the final kilometre it was Guardini who emerged first, throwing down the gauntlet in search of his 25th victory in the race. “In the final kilometre, my lead-out brought me to the front and I only started my sprint in the final 100m and then I saw Guardini was slowing down as he went early. So, I sensed this was the big chance I was waiting for,” said Harrif, who passed Guardini inside the final 25m.
“My strategy today was simple as my target was to try and win the stage, so I stayed in the peloton and waited for my turn to deliver. I also have to thank Sapura and the sprinters’ teams who helped control the race and bring back the breakaways,” Harrif added.
Culey finished in the peloton and retained the yellow jersey with a 9s lead over second-placed Brendon Davids of Oliver’s Real Food Racing, while Floyd’s Pro Cycling’s Travis McCabe remained third, 12s adrift of the overall leader.
“It definitely isn’t true that the sprint is any easier without World Tour teams. Defending both the yellow and green jerseys is crazy and hectic, but I’m happy to have held on,” said Culey. “We are riding well and I hope to hold on to this lead at least until Genting.”
KSPO’s Kim Ji Hun replaced Vino-Astana’s Gregoriy Shtein as the Asian riders’ classification leader after being part of the breakaway and collecting bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints.
Oliver’s Real Food Racing’s Angus Lyons remained in the mountains classification lead with 34 points, ahead of Culey on 18 points and Malaysia’s Nik Mohd Azwan Zulkifle on 12. Sapura also retained the teams classification lead, five seconds ahead of Bardiani-CSF, with South Africa’s Protouch level on time with the latter.
Another long an undulating stage awaits the peloton in Stage 3 tomorrow, which covers 192.9km from Muar to Putrajaya.