SWEEP: New Zealand's Pure Black Racing team snatch top three spots
THE Tour of Borneo started yesterday with New Zealand's Pure Black Racing Team achieving an unprecedented sweep of the top three places with Michael Torckler aptly finishing off a breakaway in the 102.8km stage from Semporna to Tawau.
Torckler, 25, made his intentions clear by launching an attack right from the official start marker with Uzbekistan's Suren Team rider Vadim Shaekov.
The duo managed to expand their time gap over the peloton to around one minute and 22 seconds for most of the stage.
The peloton caught up with the duo in the final two kilometres. But the Genesys Wealth Advisers team and the Terengganu Cycling Team, who were doing most of the work at the head of the peloton with 40 kilometres to go, were already running on empty tanks.
It was Torckler's teammates Louis Crosby and Roman Van Uden who caught up with him while James Williamson did well to hold back a charging Harrif Salleh.
"It's a new race and we've never been to this part of the world, so we didn't know what to expect. We were just prepared for anything. I decided to try and attack from the zero kilometre marker and just kept going with the other rider," said Torckler.
"With 10 or 20 kilometres to go, we saw that the bunch was catching up but there was a hill right after the second intermediate sprint, so I decided to attack again there and opened up a slight gap again. In the final kilometres I saw the bunch catching up and thought it was over, but then I saw it was my two teammates and they urged me to keep going.
"To finish like that, a one-two-three is just fantastic. I've not seen it happen before, certainly not in any of the teams I've been in.
" There are some strong teams in this race, but we've got a strong team too, so we'll try to control the race in the coming stages and try to keep the lead to the finish."
The Terengganu Cycling Team, who were the pre-stage favourites to bring Harrif his first victory of the season, paid a heavy price for defying coach Sebastien Duclos' instructions, forming an allegiance with the Genesys team and exhausting themselves with 40 kilometres to go. Duclos was left fuming as he had instructed his team to pull for the bunch sprint with 20km to go.
Harrif did well to push on alone with his worn-out teammates drawing on their reserve tanks to stay with the peloton in the final kilometres. He caught up for an expected bunch sprint and latched on to Pure Black's James Williamson's wheel, which turned out to be his biggest mistake.
With three teammates in front of him and explosive sprinter Harrif on his wheel, Williamson slammed the brakes at a sharp turn in the final kilometre, forcing Harrif to slow down while his three teammates opened up a comfortable gap to sprint for the finish.
Harrif's last ditch chase left him to settle for fourth place and both the Asian and Malaysian riders' classification leader jerseys, instead of the yellow for the overall lead.
"My team made a big mistake today. The Genesys riders came and negotiated with us and asked if we wanted to join forces and work ahead of the peloton and we agreed. But that was too early. We thought they'd be able to keep working but they too ended up emptying their tanks too early," said Harrif.
"I can forgive my teammates because we've come here with three inexperienced riders in Mohd Shobry Abdullah, Nor Umardi Rosdi and Faiz Syarifuddin Abdul Kadir.
"But we have four stages to go, we need to have a serious team meeting and we have to pull together as a team in the coming stages if we want to get anything out of this race."
Faiz Syarifuddin, 20, did well to bag points in the two intermediate sprints on offer, but was dropped in the last 20 kilometres and struggled to the finish.
The Tour of Borneo gets tougher with a 146.6km Stage Two from Tawau to Lahad Datu today, where the king of the mountains classification opens accounts with two category two climbs after 65km in Girang Estate and 15km from the finish in Danum Valey near Lahad Datu.
Stage One (102.8km from Semporna to Tawau): 1 Michael Torckler (Nzl) Pure Black Racing 2:23.06s, 2 Louis Crosby (Nzl) Pure Black Racing, 3 Roman Van Uden (Nzl) Pure Black Racing, 4 Harrif Salleh (Mas) Terengganu, 5 Azamat Turaev (Uzb) Suren Uzbekistan Team, 6 Anthony Giacoppo (Aus) Genesys Health Advisers, 7 Mohd Raihaan Abdul Aziz (Bru) CCN Cycling Team, 8 Volodymyr Zagorodniy (Uzb) Suren Uzbekistan Team, 9 James Williamson (Nzl) Pure Black Racing, 10 Ericson Obosa (Phi) 7-Eleven (all same time).
General classification (yellow jersey): 1 Michael Torckler (Nzl) Pure Black Racing 2:22.50s, 2 Louis Crosby (Nzl) Pure Black Racing +09s, 3 Roman Van Uden (Nzl) Pure Black Racing +12s, 4 Harrif Salleh (Mas) Terengganu +16s.
Points classification (orange jersey): 1 Michael Torckler (Nzl) Pure Black Racing 25 points, 2 Louis Crosby (Nzl) Pure Black Racing 16, 3 Roman Van Uden (Nzl) Pure Black Racing 13.
Asian riders' classification (blue jersey): 1 Harrif Salleh (Mas) Terengganu 2:23.06s, 2 Azamat Turaev (Uzb) Suren Uzbekistan Team +00s, 3 Mohd Raihaan Abdul Aziz (Bru) CCN Cycling Team +00s.
Malaysian riders' classification (white jersey): 1 Harrif Salleh (Mas) Terengganu 2:23.06s, 2 Hamdan Hamidun (Mas) Selangor +00s, 3 Fakhruddin Daud (Mas) Malaysia U-23 +00s.