CAMERON HIGHLANDS: Terengganu Cycling Team's (TSG) Russian rider Artem Ovechkin turned overnight star today after conquering the queen stage of Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) 2018, riding solo across the finish line to bag victory in the stage from Bentong to Cameron Highlands.
Shocking the favourites in taking the yellow jersey as the overall leader and the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification lead, with just three flat stages to go Ovechkin finds himself on the verge of history as the first rider from a Malaysian team to bag the overall title in Asia's biggest race.
On the deciding stage of the race today, Ovechkin who was only signed by the team a week before the start of this race, met the criteria required by the team to achieve their targets, with the Kuala Terengganu-based team now also in the lead of the overall teams classification.
This was also the fourth change of the overall leadership in five stages of the race so far, with Ovechkin, winner of a stage and the general while riding for Gazprom-Rusvelo in the Tour of Antalya in Turkey before signing with TSG taking the two jerseys, while hot favourite for the overall lead Yevgeniy Gidich of Astana had to be satisfied with just the Asian riders' jersey.
Astana sprinter and double stage winner Riccardo Minali retained the lead in the points classification with 40 points, four ahead of Stage 1 winner Andrea Guardini of Bardiani-CSF.
Ovechkin arrived at the finish of the 169km stage in 4 hours 24 minutes and 29 seconds, 28 seconds ahead of second placed Benjamin Dyball of St George Continental Cycling Team and 44s ahead of third placed Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier of Dimension Data.
With a total time of 21 hours 21 minutes and 34 seconds, Ovechkin sits atop the general classification with a 32-seconds lead over Dyball in second spot, while Mitchelton-BikeExchange's Harrison Sweeny is third, 59 seconds adrift of the Russian.
In the mountains classification meanwhile, Ovechkin's solo attack saw him sweep the maximum points at both the first category summit at Ringlet and hors category summit in Tanah Rata to collect a total of 40 points, 12 ahead of Forca Amskins' Colombian rider Alvaro Duarte.
TSG's Metkel Eyob of Eritrea and Drew Morey of Austalia also placed high in the stage finish to help the team into the overall teams classification lead, two minutes and six seconds ahead of Astana, with Kinan Cycling Team a further five seconds adrift.
It all happened for Ovechkin when he decided to launch an attack from a leading group of nine riders as they approached the summit at Ringlet, but despite a chase the 32-year old from Berdsk, Russia managed to open up a gap of one minute and 40 seconds and sustained his position to the finish.
"When we approached the first summit, I chose to attack, but despite the chase from the others, they didn't manage to catch me and after that I just focused on maintaining my rhythm," said Ovechkin.
"This is a sweet victory and and the biggest in a 2.HC race in my career. It is sweeter because I have taken two jersey as well. But there are still three stages to go and we still need to defend this lead. I am confident that we will be able to do it despite Stage 7 from Nilai to Muar being a very long stage," he added.
"We can't celebrate victory yet and I am sure the TSG team will formulate a strategy to defend this lead at tonight's meeting."
Gidich, who was targeted by Astana to win the Cameron Highlands stage, said he had to be satisfied with the white jersey taken from Forca Amskins' Nik Mohd Azwan Zulkiflie, who finished the stage in 62nd position.
"Obviously I am disappointed, but this is racing. I was unlucky today as despite Astana being a WorldTour team, we didn't get this stage win. All my teammates had worked for that today," said Gidich.
Minali said despite not gaining the yellow jersey in the Camerons, Astana's challenge has not ended and they will try to do something for Gidich to wrest the yellow jersey in the coming stages.
The best Malaysian rider on the stage was Sapura's Muhammad Nur Aiman Zariff, who only managed 42nd spot, after arriving two minutes and 57 seconds behind Ovechkin.
LTdL 2018 continues with Stage 6, a short and flat stage from Tapah to Tanjung Malim tomorrow, covering 108.5km with the sprinters expected to do battle for the points classification.
The UCI 2.HC status race, covering an overall distance of 1,341.2 km throught eight states in Peninsula Malaysia, will see 22 teams competing for honours.
LTdL 2018 is organised by Ciclista Sports with the full support of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
BEST SPRINTERS’ (GREEN JERSEY)
BEST CLIMBERS’ (RED POLKA DOT JERSEY)