TANJUNG MALIM: It was Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia's Luca Pacioni's turn to take a bunch sprint victory as the sprinters battled again at the end of Stage 6 of Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) 2018 from Tapah to Tanjung Malim today.
Although today was the shortest stage of the race with a distance of just 108km, the start time at 3pm gave the peloton a different challenge underneath the scorching heat in the earlier part of the stage, before they faced torrential rain mid-stage.
The 22-year old Pacioni, who had raced under Colpack, Lampre-Merida and Androni before signing for Wilier this year, is on a hot streak after winning stages in the Tour of Gabon and the Tour of Taiwan before coming to LTdL, and he showd his form after holding off green jersey holder Riccardo Minali of Astanaand Terengganu Cycling Team's (TSG) Harrif Salleh at the finish to take the win.
At the end of today's stage, TSG's Artem Ovechkin retained the yellow jersey as the overall leader after taking the victory in the Cameron Highlands stage yesterday and also maintained his lead in the mountains classification, while Minali's second place finish saw him extend his lead in the points classification to 55 points, nine ahead of Andrea Guardini of Bardiani-CSF, who only managed fourth in the stage, behind Harrif.
Astana's Yevgeniy Gidich retained the white jersey as the leading Asian rider, while Sapura's Muhammad Nur Aiman Zariff remained the leading Malaysian rider for the second straight day.
Although the flat stage was expected to be down to a bunch sprint among the top sprinters, Pacioni's presence at the front was a surprise as the peloton surged towards the final sprint in front of Balai Lintang in Tanjung Malim.
Pacioni, who was born in Gatteo, Italy, said the victory was down to planning the right strategy for the finish.
"Before we arrived at the final turn with about 100 metres to go, I was already sprinting in a comfortable position. My teammate Eugert Zhupa also worked very hard today to bring me to the front," said Pacioni.
"This victory is sweet as I have proven that I can also sprint despite not being a pure sprinter. I am not afraid to compete in the final sprint. What is important is the right trategy," said Pacioni, who vowed to add to his victory in the final two stages.
Overall leader Ovechkin said he had played it safe today, riding behind his TSG teammates who also played their role in chasing down breakaways.
"Today was like a rest day for me because it was a short stage, but together with the sprinters' teams, my team had to work hard throughout the stage to chase down the breakaways," said Ovechkin.
"TSG will focus on defending the yellow jersey with tomorrow's stage being very long and with some climbing," said Ovechkin, who is still 32 seconds ahead of St George Continental's Benjamin Dyball in the general classification and 10 points ahead of Forca Amskins' Alvaro Duarte in the mountains classification.
Minali, who is the only rider to have won more than one stage in the race thus far after winning in Kota Bharu and Pekan, admitted that Pacioni was the fastest man in the sprint today.
"I was left behind when we approached the final turn and despite being behind him, it was clear that Pacioni was sprinter better and I failed to overtake him. But second place is not too bad and I can still add to my victories in the coming stages," said Minali.
The local fans, especially those of TSG were again given some reason to cheer today when Harrif Salleh stepped onto the podium for the second time with another third place to add to his third spot in Pekan two days ago.
"TSG worked hard today, especially to protect the yellow jersey. But when the peloton had caught the last of the breakaways, I shifted my focus to trying to win today's stage," said Harrif.
"There was a small crash as we approached the finish and that disturbed my tempo a little bit and I was slow to react when the riders in front of me began to sprint for the finish line."
In Stage 6 today, the peloton maintained a fast pace, covering the 108km with an average speed of 44.9kp/h despite rain at the half-way point.
The most threatening breakaway came via Thailand Continental's Turakit Boonratanathanakorn, who launched a solo attack after just 20km and opened up a maximum gap of 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
Turakit was caught with 12km to go and had to pay a heavy price for his exhaustive effort after failing to hang on and was dropped as the peloton surged towards the finish line, ending his day 3 minutes and 13 seconds behind winner Pacioni, who finished in 2 hours 24 minutes and 55 seconds.
After the shortest stage today, the peloton moves into Stage 7, the longest stage of the race, covering 222.4km from Nilai to Muar, which could yet see changes to the leaders' jerseys.
The stage begins at the National Velodrome in Nilai and involves three intermediate sprints in Mantin (Km 9.7), Tampin (Km 136.2) and Tangkak (Km194.7) and six categorised climbs at Mantin (km14.9) Lenggeng (Km23.9), Bukit Putus (Km49.2), Sri Menanti (Km63.2), Inas (Km88.2) and Bukit Miku (Km112.5).
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)