Costa Rica's Kevin Rivera (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) revived memories of South Americans managed by Gianni Savio to win atop Genting Highlands, the grueling climb of Le Tour de Langkawi.
Eight years after Colombia's José Serpa won on the same mountain for a Savio team, Rivera imposed himself over Italy's Danilo Celano (Sapura) who moved into the overall lead, even though 19-year-old Yevgeni Fedorov (Vino-Astana Motors) defended his position bravely.
"I'm delighted to get a win here considering that I started Le Tour de Langkawi very badly," said Rivera after no taking part in the opening criterium in Kota Kinabalu due to a stomach bug. He was also dropped on stage 1 to Kuching to find himself out of contention for GC before the hilly stages.
"It's a beautiful win because this climb here in Genting is a very hard one," he continued. "After I felt sick, I recovered and I saved energy for winning today's stage. I'm glad I timed it right in the hardest part of the hill. The remaining stages are for the sprinters so from now on I'll help my teammates as much as they helped me today."
It was an eventful day with 14 riders escaping after 15km with Samuele Battistella and Michael Carbel (NTT Pro Cycling), Nicola Venchiarutti (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Cyril Gautier, Johan Le Bon and Jérémy Lecroq (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept), Dusan Rajovic (Nippo Delko One Provence), Rylee Field and Juan-Pierre Van der Merwe (Bridgelane), Taj Jones (ARA Sunshine Coast), Fabricio Ferrari (SSIOS Miogee), Nur Aiman Zariff (Sapura), Metkel Eyob (Terengganu Inc TSG) and Samuel Boardman (Wildlife Generation) going clear.
For the third consecutive day, Zariff and Field were up the road, the Malaysian riding for the KOM competition and the Australian keeping up his all or nothing attitude. Field rode away solo with 130km remaining. He crested the first hill of the day at 52km in first place, 1:40 ahead of his former breakaway companions but crashed on the downhill. Twelve riders remained at the front of the race with Zariff continuing to collect points for the KOM.
The breakaway was down to eight men at the beginning of the 20km long final ascent: Battistella, Venchiarutti, Gautier, Van der Merwe, Ferrari, Zariff, Eyob and Boardman.
The 2018 winner of Le Tour de Langkawi, Artem Ovechkin, attacked from the bunch and managed to overtake the escapees one-by-one, only to be caught by Rivera and Celano with 3.5km to go while Fedorov was battling by himself at 1:30 as he defended his overall lead.
"I had let Ovechkin go because I knew the climb from training around here before the race," Celano acknowledged.
"It was still a long way to go and I kept what was needed for the last 5km. It was our goal to win Le Tour de Langkawi so now that I'm in the lead, we'll do everything we can to reach that goal."
The second half of the eight-day race doesn't feature any other gruelling climb but an interesting lumpy terrain on the islands of Penang and Langkawi.
Cycling News, 10 February 2020