Distance aside, today’s 187.6km stage could easily be reported as a carbon copy of yesterday; oppressive heat and humidity, early attacks by Asian Continental teams, a small breakaway forming and staying away all day only to be enveloped by the peloton with a few kilometres remaining.
But, thanks to the generosity of Drapac Cycling Team, Cycling iQ was able to trade the media van for a ride in a team car. Not only did this guarantee a race radio feed for the duration of the mostly flat stage, but also a close-up view of the race; Drapac’s car was second in the team convoy thanks to Adam Phelan’s position on GC. Compared to the almost complete absence of communications yesterday, this was an information overload. And what a difference it made.
Firstly, without race radio, I would never have known that constant attacks had begun only 2km after the peloton passed through the 4.8km neutral zone. Added to that, I could actually see the attacks occurring in front of us. At 16km into the stage, a five-man break had gained 100m on the peloton as it chased hard to retain them.
Shortly after the first 20km, the peloton held back from chasing and the (by now) four-man breakaway – consisting of Taiji Nishitani (Aisan Racing), Alex Coutts RTS Racing), Shinichi Fukushima (Terengganu Cycling) and Ahmad Lutfi Fauzan (Malaysian National team) – had built a 24 second advantage.
At 30km, the bunch arrived at the first drinks zone, and the day’s first crash occurred. Fortunately, this was a low-speed tangle between two riders from Seoul Cycling Team and RTS Racing. Both riders re-mounted their bikes, weaving through team cars and back into the slow-moving bunch in no time.
Minutes later, it was announced on race radio that Jose Serpa (Androni Giocattoli) and Wijaya Endra (Indonesian National team) were attempting to bridge to the breakaway, which by now had a 3’30 lead over the bunch. From his vantage point in the Drapac car, Sports Director Agostino Giramondo couldn’t figure out why the bunch wasn’t chasing the 22nd placed Colombian. It transpired much later that “Serpa” was in fact Xue Ming Xing of China’s Max Success team.
After two hours of racing, the leading breakaway had covered 83km (41.5kmh average) and built a gap over the main peloton of more than five minutes. Behind them, Endra and Xue were failing in their bid to bridge across, having only narrowed their deficit to 3’30. Perhaps the hot humidity was proving too much; as a measure of the toll this weather had on a rider’s physiology, Giramondo had earlier explained his Drapac riders would consume 14 x 500ml bottles of electrolyte formula from race start until dinner later that evening. Whatever the reason, Endra and Xue’s bid to embed themselves in the breakaway ahead appeared doomed.
Nishitani became virtual race leader at the 70km mark, by which time one sprint had already taken place. Of the three sprints held during the stage, the breakaway proved egalitarian in “sharing” the placings.
From that point onwards, the gap hovered between 3-5 minutes until the 40km sign appeared, by which time the breakaway’s advantage was beginning to fall – at first gradually, and then precipitously. Farnese Vini, Garmin Barracuda and United Healthcare forced a particularly relentless pace from 25km to go until the sole KOM climb at 176.7km. Whilst the ‘Category 4’ climb barely registered on the stage profile drawing, it proved the undoing of the four-man breakaway which was swallowed by the peloton metres from the summit.
As a reward for the calculated final push by his team, Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini) took his second stage win, ahead of Raymond Kreder (Garmin Barracuda) and Anuar Manan (Champion System).
Tomorrow, the race will reverse the southeast heading taken for the past two days as it turns back towards Kuala Lumpur. Stage four features no categorised climbs, promising an easy return to the “working week” for the 129 riders scheduled to start the 169.4km stage.
[Note: apologies for the absence of images today and yesterday. After arriving at our post-stage hotel at 5pm, I went for a road ride that blew up into a three-hour odyssey, including monsoonal rains and off-road jungle tracks through washed-out river beds. Uploading is taking an extremely long time, so I’m going to try adding more after tomorrow’s stage – and some sleep.]
STAGE 3 RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE THREE