Hideto Nakane (Nippo Delko One Provence) took victory on stage 6 of the Tour de Langkawi in Penang, pipping breakaway companion Gleb Brussenskiy (Vino-Astana Motors) to the line in a tight finish with under-23 world champion Samuele Battistella (NTT Pro Cycling) rounding off the podium, his first as a professional.
Nakane, a new signing at the French squad, became the fifth Japanese stage winner in the race's history, after Koji Fukushima (2005), Shinichi Fukushima (2007), Taiji Nishitani (2010) and Takeaki Ayabe (2011).
"For me, this is huge," Nakane explained after the stage, his first pro victory. "It's bigger than winning the best Asian rider competition, which I did at Le Tour de Langkawi in 2017. I remember very well when Ayabe won in the Cameron Highlands nine years ago. Later on, he was my teammate at Aisan.
"I managed to win today because I was very serene. I saw an opportunity to escape at the end [with Brussenskiy] and I knew that our sprinter Riccardo Minali was right behind us in the bunch and ready to take over should we get caught."
Overall leader Danilo Celano (Team Sapura Cycling) retained the top spot with no trouble, and was spotted a few times at the back of the pack while there was some action at the front. "It was a hard stage with the hills at the end but also at the beginning because of the fast start," he said later.
The first breakaway took shape 35km into the stage with Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept), Jeroen Meijers (SSIOS Miogee), Drew Morey (TSG Terengganu) and Samuel Boardman (Wildlife Generation) in the move, but it was short lived as Sapura were reluctant to give much leeway to their arch-rivals TSG.
Rolland counter-attacked to reach the trio that escaped before the 13km long Penang bridge: it was Meijers again, along with Ben Van Dam (Bridgelane) and Thurakit Boonrathanathanakorn (Thailand Continental Team).
Being 13th overall at 3:22, Meijers briefly became the virtual leader when a maximum time gap of 3:25 was recorded on the first climb on the Penang island, before the second one that saw several splits in the peloton and a regrouping at 26km to go.
Nakane and Brussenskiy anticipated the expected bunch gallop on a short climb along the sea after an acceleration by runner up Yevgeniy Fedorov (Vino-Astana Motors) with 6km to go.
A photo finish was needed to determine the winner between the Japanese rider and the Kazakhstani. "I saw myself as the winner as we crossed the line," said Nakane who is also riding for GC and moved up from seventh to sixth overall thanks to the time bonuses.
"I've been a little bit unfortunate that the breakaway stayed away," Battistella told Cyclingnews before the prize ceremony. "However, I'm still happy because this is my first podium as a pro rider. It's been a difficult week because I've suffered food poisoning in the first days of the race.
"But as I felt better, I kept my motivation high as I knew it could be a good stage for me today. I've tested myself in the last kilometre of the last climb and I've felt that I had very good legs and I could have done a good result."
A bunch sprint is expected in the penultimate stage to Alor Setar before the tricky hilly circuit on the Langkawi Island rounds off the race on Friday.
Cycling News, 12 February 2020