CYCLING / JELAJAH MALAYSIA: Fiery Fukushima breaks best
EARLY WINNER: Veteran Japanese rider sets the stage for an enticing overall battle
SHINICHI Fukushima finished off a breakaway charge by taking his first victory of the season, but the tone was set for a gripping battle for the overall title at the end of Stage One of the Jelajah Malaysia from the Merdeka Stadium to Kampar yesterday.
It was almost as if the big guns had held a pre-race meeting of their own to plan an escape group of 11 riders who went away shortly after the official start as it included all the big names.
Terengganu Cycling Team's Fukushima was joined by teammate Saufi Mat Senan, Pure Black Racing's Michael Torckler, RTS Racing's Jai Crawford and Andrey Mizurov, Polygon-Sweet Nice's Hari Fitrianto, CCN Cycling Team's Timo Scholz, Suren Uzbekistan's Volodymyr Zagorodniy, Kazakhstan's Sergey Kuzmin, Putra Perjuangan's Tonton Susanto and Malaysia's Adiq Husainie Othman.
As the breakaway bunch approached the finish, Fukushima, Hari, Mizurov, Torckler and Zagorodniy launched an attack to prospect the victory among themselves.
That ended with Fukushima doing just enough to pip Torckler in the final metres, while Sea Games road race gold medallist Hari, who initiated the last ditch attack, had to be satisfied with third.
Promising youngster Zulhilmie Afif Ahmad Zamri also made his first move in the race. The 21-year-old was part of the breakaway and gave a good account of himself in challenging for intermediate sprint points and saving himself for a creditable 12th placing.
But the day belonged to Zulhilmie's seniors from the Terengganu Cycling Team as 41-year-old Fukushima celebrated the win and aims to keep the yellow jersey till the end of the race, while Saufi fended off a challenge from Tour of Borneo overall winner Torckler and Tonton to top the summit of the category four climb at Ulu Yam, 21.6km into the stage.
"The breakaway happened quite early but I was ready because I saw Saufi at the front and some riders already trying to move clear of the peloton," said Fukushima.
"At first there were three of us in the group. Harrif (Salleh) was also in the group at first then he dropped back, but it was working well for our team because if the breakaway succeeded, there was Saufi and me and if it didn't, we could still count on Harrif to win the bunch sprint.
"The last time I won an overall title was in the Tour of Brunei, where I took the yellow jersey from Adiq Husainie in the final stage, but this time I hope he doesn't take it from me in the final stages."
RESULTS -- Stage One (161.5km from Merdeka Stadium to Kampar): 1 Shinichi Fukushima (Jpn) Terengganu Cycling Team 3:50.38s, 2 Michael Torckler (NZ) Pure Black Racing, 3 Hari Fitrianto (Ina) Polygon-Sweet Nice, 4 Volodymyr Zagorodniy (Ukr) Suren Uzbekistan Team, 5 Andrey Mizurov (Kaz) RTS Racing Team (all same time).
General classification (yellow jersey): 1 Shinichi Fukushima 3:50.28s, 2 Michael Torckler +04s, 3 Hari Fitrianto +06s;
Points classification (green jersey): 1 Adiq Husainie Othman (Mas) Malaysia Development Team 20pts, 2 Shinichi Fukushima (Jpn) 15, 3 Kazuhiro Mori (Jpn) Aisan Racing Team 15.
Mountains classification (red jersey): 1 Saufi Mat Senan (Mas) Terengganu Cycling Team 6pts, 2 Michael Torckler 4, 3 Tonton Susanto (Ina) Putra Perjuangan 2.
Asian riders classification (blue jersey): 1 Shinichi Fukushima 3:50.28s, 2 Hari Fitrianto +06s, 3 Andrey Mizurov +10s.
Malaysian riders' classification (white jersey): 1 Adiq Husainie Othman 3:51.18s, 2 Zulhilmie Afif Ahmad Zamri (Mas) +06s, 3 Saufi Mat Senan (Mas) +08s.