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Having survived the hard pace set by Sky on Fraser’s Hill, Reguigui was the fastest when 15 riders sprinted for the win at the top; Reguigui also takes the leader’s jersey with one stage to go

Photo: MTN Qhubeka

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YOUCEF REGUIGUI

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14.03.2015 @ 12:24 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Youcef Reguigui (MTN-Qhubeka) proved that he is much more than a sprinter when he took a surprise win in the Tour de Langkawi queen stage at the top of the Fraser’s Hill. Despite Sky’s hard pace, the British team was unable to rid themselves of the Algerian fastman who beat Sebastian Henao (Sky) and Valerio Agnoli (Astana) in a 15-rider sprint to take both the stage win and the leader’s jersey.

 

When they arrived in Malaysia for the Tour de Langkawi, MTN-Qhubeka were tipped as the team to beat in the 8-day race. With climbers like Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Daniel Teklehaimanot, Merhawi Kudus and Natnael Berhane, the team had lots of cards to play in the queen stage that was set to finish at the top of the brutally hard Genting Highlands climb.

 

On the eve of the first stage, the organizers were forced to change that stage as poor road quality made the climb too dangerous to use for a bike race. Instead, the riders faced the less steep Fraser’s Hill at the end of the hardest stage of the race and this made everybody a bit uncertain about what to expect.

 

However, MTN-Qhubeka still planned to back their four climbers when the riders finally tackled the climb today but when the dust had settled, it was another rider from the African team who had taken the spoil. Algerian sprinter Youcef Reguigui who had vowed to ride in support of his leaders surprised himself by making it into a 15-rider group that sprinted for the win at the top of the climb.

 

Many teams had lined up pure climbers for the race as they expected the Genting climb to be decisive but despite many attempts, none of them managed to make a difference on the mellow slopes. Sky tried their usual pace-setting strategy on the climb to set up Sebastian Henao for the win and it was enough to get rid of the likes of race leader Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEDGE) and whittle the group down to just 15 riders.

 

However, Reguigui dug deep to stay with the leaders and when the stage was to be decided in an uphill sprint, he was obviously the man to beat. With his fast turn of speed, he distanced Henao and Valerio Agnoli to take the biggest win of his short career.

 

With the win, Reguigui also takes the leader’s jersey with a 10-second advantage over Henao and he finds himself in a comfortable position ahead of the final stage. It is a short, flat affair that finishes with a few laps on a circuit in the capital of Kuala Lumpur, meaning that the sprinters are expected to battle it out on the final day of the race.

 

The queen stage

After 6 stages for the sprinters, the climbers were finally expected to come to the fore in the queen stage which brought the riders over 180.8km from Shah Alam to the top of Fraser’s Hill. The race was originally set to finish on the Genting Highlands climb but due to poor road quality, the riders faced a different challenge. The first part was almost completely flat with just two smaller climbs before the riders went up the final climb which was more of a long, gradual rise than a real mountain.

 

There were several non-starters when the riders took the start in the usual very hot and humid conditions. Bazhar Kozhatayev, Daniil Fominykh, Andrey Zeits (all Astana), Chris Sutton (Sky), Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) and Simone Andreeta (Bardiani) all left the race before the start of the queen stage.

 

A break is formed

Last year a very big group got clear in the early part of the decisive stage and many riders were intent on repeating that scenario. Hence, there were lots of attacks in the early part and after 5km of racing, it was still all together.

 

Vladimir Gusev (Skydive) and Afiq Othman (National Sports Council) briefly got a promising gap but they were brought back at the 12km mark.2km later the right move was formed when Francesco Chicchi (Androni), Liam Bertazzo (Southeast), Sung Baek Park (KSPO) and Zulkifle Azwan (National Sports Council) started to build an advantage.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo take control

After 15km of racing, they were already 1.25 and when Azwan won the first KOM sprint, their advantage was 4.40. Moments later Chicchi led Park, Azwan and Bertazzo across the line in the first intermediate sprint.

 

There was still no chase going on and after 30km of racing, the gap was 7.40. This was the signal for Tinkoff-Saxo to hit the front and they started to keep the situation under control.

 

The gap comes down

Bertazzo led Chicchi, Park and Azwan across the line in the second intermediate sprint while Skydive now started to work with Tinkoff-Saxo to keep the gap stable at around 7.30. At the 50km mark, MTN-Qhubeka also decided to lend a hand before Team Sky took over.

 

Azwan beat Chicchi, Park and Bertazzo in the final intermediate sprint at which point the gap was still 7.30. However, Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo and Skydive Dubai now started to accelerate and the gap started to come down.

 

Bertazzo takes off

Azwan beat Park, Chicchi and Bertazzo in the second KOM sprint while the Unitedhealthcare duo of Kiel Reijnen and Jonathan Clarke were first from the peloton. Under the impetus of Sky and Colombia, the gap still came down and at the 106km mark, it was 4.20.

 

After 120km of racing, the escapees were only 2.25 ahead and when the gap dropped below the 2-minute mark, Bertazzo decided to attack. At the 127km mark, he was 1.35 ahead of the peloton and 13 seconds ahead of his chasers.

 

Bertazzo extends his advantage

Azwan, Chicchi and Park decided to sit up while the peloton again slowed down. The gap went back up to 2.55 with 40km to go at a point when Team Sky were setting the pace.

 

With 29km to go, the riders hit the bottom of the climb and now Bertazzo was only 2 minutes ahead. Tinkoff-Saxo were trying to make the race hard and they responded when the first attacks came from the peloton.

 

Ewan is dropped

No one managed to escape but the fast pace spelled the end for Bertazzo who was brought back. Furthermore, race leader Ewan and Andrea Guardini (Astana) were among the many riders to get dropped.

 

Things were still together with 5km to go where Sky tried to set a brutally hard pace but their hard work didn’t pay off. When 15 riders sprinted for the win, it was Reguigui who came out on top.

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