What's Cool In Road Cycling

Tour of Langkawi: Stage 10 Finale


What a finish!
Bongiorno grabs the stage – Danielson is home safe in Yellow

By Roger St. Pierre

It wasn’t just a good day but a great one for Argentina’s Ruben Bongiorno, scooping the final stage of this year’s exciting Telekom Malaysia Le Tour de Langkawi over 12 laps around a circuit in central Kuala Lumpur.
24-year old American rider Tom Danielson, Saturn, was safe in the middle of the big bunch, shepherded across the final line by his Saturn team-mates, Nathan O’Neill and Chris Horner. Crossing the line in 46th position but credited with the same time as the stage winner, sealed the 24-year old Colorado-based rider’s overall victory in a race which he hopes will set him on the path to an eventual ride in the world-famous Tour de France.
But the day – marked by heavy rain which sent the large crowds scuttling for shelter but which failed to drive them away – belonged just as much to Bongiorno, notching his first race win since turning professional at the start of the year.

The Stage 10 finish – a real cracker!

Not so happy, though, was the smiling Argentinean’s Ceramiche Panaria team-mate Graeme Brown. The powerful Aussie, who has scored three wins, six second places and a third in the 12 sprint finishes he has disputed so far this racing season found it a bitter pill to be beaten by just a tyre’s width in his quest to equal Brazilian rider Luciano Pagliarini’s achievement of three stage wins in this Tour de Langkawi. He was even more upset that the damage was inflicted by his own team-mate, who was noticeably absent from the after-race press conferenc. When we caught up with him later, Bongiorno was unrepentant: “It was totally legitimate for me to go for the victory today. There is no nominated leader in this team so every rider has the right to go for himself.

“I was on Brown’s wheel coming down the finishing straight and had no difficulty holding his pace. I felt I had plenty of speed in reserve, so I felt wholly justified in going for the win. The only consideration was not to open the door for somebody from another team. “At least it was a Panaria one-two, so I’ll settle for that,” Brown had said after his initial anger subsided. “I was more concerned with holding onto the green jersey of points leader. Stuart O’Grady, my closest challenger in that competition, took the five points for winning the first Petronas Hot Spot sprint, where I came third, but my winning the second one, with Stuart not even scoring, put my overall points’ win beyond challenge.

“I’ve got plenty of speed so now I am looking forward to the Tour of Italy, in late spring, where I am hoping to provide a challenge for the great Mario Cippolini in the stage sprints.” The Giro is also in Bongiorno’s appointment diary this summer though he is hoping to mount a challenge for the overall winner’s pink jersey. That would be a first for Argentina as was his Kuala Lumpur success, the first ever stage win in a major race by a rider from the South American nation.

Most of the riders were as much concerned with getting to the final line safely as they were with thoughts of grabbing the final slice of the Tour’s valuable prize cake. Commented Tom Danielson: “Saturn started the stage riding a fast tempo at the front but when it began raining and the commissaires told us the general classification standings were being neutralised we knew that all we had to do was concentrate on staying safe, so we slipped towards the back of the field. In a way it was a bit more dangerous when the pace dropped because then there was a tendency to pay less attention.

And crashes there were but, thankfully, none was of serious consequence. One who fell but was quickly back on his bike was overall runner-up Hernan Dario Munoz, Colombia-Sell Italia. Overall winner by a narrow margin last year, Munoz went into this year’s final stage just nine seconds in arrears of the American race-leader but nine seconds might as well be nine minutes when everything is buttoned down tight and a mere two hours of racing is left
Afterwards, Danielson described winning the Telekom Malaysia Le Tour de Langkawi as: “A very emotional experience. I will definitely be phoning my mum tonight – and all my friends,” – maybe chief sponsors Telekom Malaysia should give him a free phone card.

Certainly Malaysia has already given him an unforgettable 10 days of bike racing at its best: “I’ve learned so much on this race,” he said, “I now have a much better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses as a bike rider – I saw what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. I understand what areas I need to work on improving.
“It was a privilege riding against so many great competitors on such a wonderful race.

“My only other experience of racing abroad was in China. The people were great but everything else was very strange. Here in Malaysia, though, everything has been perfect, with great racing good roads, super hotels, nice food and, most important of all, the ever-smiling Malaysian people. “I’m just so happy to have been here and I’m in no hurry to get home.Thankyou Malaysia – you guys are great!”

One of the best things about the Telekom Malaysia Le Tour de Langkawi is its wonderful international flavour, drawing riders, officials and journalists from every continent. This year, stage victories when to riders from Australian, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina while the overall winner was from the USA.

The Asian nations continued their progress towards the higher echelons of cycling, with the Iranians winning plaudits and taking the award for best Asian team while Japan’s Koji Fukashima was far and away the race’s most aggressive rider with his succession of breakaway exploits – and one of its most loveable personalities.
Best-placed Asian individually, Japan’s strongest man, Tomoya Kano, cracked the top 20, finishing an encouraging seventeenth overall and, more importantly, only conceding 5min 20sec to the overall winner.
“We came to Malaysia a week early, to acclimatise, and I feel we now have a national team which can be truly competitive even when matched against the best from the Americas, Europe and Australia,” he said.
The strong South African contingent on the race were equally enthused: “This event is now a not-to-be-missed for us,” said their best-placed rider overall, David George, who finished in eighth place.

Final words of encouragement for all the competitors, especially the 122 who made it all the way to the finish after 1,343 kilometres / 835.46 miles of go-all-the-way racing, came from Malaysia’s prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who told everyone at the finish at Jalan Sultan Abdul Samad in Kuala Lumpur: “This superb race has a great future. Great cyclists from all over the world now want to come here to compete and they no longer fear the climate. Indeed, it seems from the results that riders from temperate countries can cope with the heat much better than can those from the tropics!”

So ended Telekom Malaysia Le Tour de Lankawi 2003. See you next year!

Ruben Bongiorno (Argentina) Ceramiche Panaria, the 75.60km / 47m in 1hr 49min 42sec; 2, Graeme Brown (Australia), Ceramiche Panaria; 3, Stuart O’Grady (Australia) Credit Agricole; 4, Moreno Di Biase (Italy), Formaggi Pinzolo Fiave’; 5, Allan Bo Andresen, Team Fakta; 6, Gordon Fraser (Canada), all same time.
Best Asian rider on stage: Hassan Maleki Missan (Iran), placed 14th.
Best team on stage: Ceramiche Panaria.
Best Asian team on stage: Telekom Malaysia

Overall classification:
Tom Danielson (USA) Saturn, 1,342.50km / 835.46m in 31hr 54min 9sec;
2, Hernan Dario Munoz (Colombia) Colombia-Selle Italia, at 9sec;
3, Freddy Gonzalez (Colombia) Colombia-Selle Italia, at 1min 44sec;
4, 3, Roland Green (Canada), at 2min 3sec;
5, Josep Jufre Pou, Colchon Relax-Fuenlabrada, at 2min 35sec;
6, Fortunato Baliani (Italy), Formaggi Pinzolo Fiave’, at 2min 59sec.

Best Asian rider overall: Tomoya Kano, Japan, positioned 17th, at 5min 20sec.
Best team overall: Colombia-Selle Italia.
Best Asian team overall: Iran.
Overall points leader: Graeme Brown (Australia) Panaria, 124 points.
Overall King of the Mountains: Roland Green (Canada) 49 points.

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