He made IsoWhey Sports Swisswellness’ first appearance to LTdL a big coup as he fended off South Africa’s Ryan Gibbons who is sensational recruit for WorldTour giants Dimension Data while Italian rivals Nicolas Marini of Nippo-Vini Fantini and Jakub Mareczko of Willier Triestina surrendered in third and fourth places.
Sunderland was well aware of winning his first pro race [after stage 1 of the UCI 2.2 Tour of Fuzhou in China in 2015] on the homeland of an old competitor of his: Olympic medalist Azizul Hasni Awang. “I know he’s from Terengganu”, the Australian reacted. “He is a great competitor and such a big presence in keirin racing. I’m aware of his fame in Malaysia. Going from track sprint to this event is definitely a lot different when you have to try to get over the hills and adjust to this style of racing. In the keirin you’ve got five or six other guys. On the road, you have to sprint against fourty or fifty riders. It can be a lot more difficult. But Azizul could definitely make the same move and succeed at LTdL as well. He is a crafty rider. He has a lot of weight on his side. Being a smaller rider [than me], he should be able to get over some of these climbs.”
It was a crash marred finale within ten kilometers to go in Kuala Terengganu once Loh Sea Keong, now riding for Thailand Continental Team, was the last man to be reined in. He was earlier accompanied in a 10-man breakaway by Nur Amirul Fakhruddin Mazuki who delivered for hosting team Terengganu TSG as he brought the first King of the Mountains red jersey home.
“Getting the win and the yellow jersey for IsoWhey Sport Swisswellness on our debut here sets up the team for a good Tour and hopefully I’ll get one more stage victory”, Sunderland declared at the post race press conference. “It was a pretty chaotic finale but the team got me ride in a pretty good position. The crash was close to where I was so I was lucky to get through that and be able to finish off the job with the sprint. Such a win gives you the confidence that you can win another stage. That would be fantastic but it’s already amazing to be here in the lead. I’ll try to hold on to the yellow jersey as long as I can, it’s an amazing event.”
Stage 1 of Le Tour de Langkawi brought neo pro Gibbons under the spotlights. “I’m very happy to be on the podium and give something to the team but I’m also very disappointed to be second”, the Dimension Data rider said. “I kind of waited a little bit too late. The crash happened next to me. I think I was the last rider to avoid it. This result gives me hopes for a stage win by the end of this Tour, hopefully tomorrow.”
“My team worked at perfection”, echoed Marini. “[Riccardo] Stacchiotti and [Giacomo] Berlato helped me tremendously. I had a good sprint. I opened it with Mareczko at 200 metres to go but the first two were really stronger. It’s still long way to go and we’ll try again.”
Stage 2 will be the longest of the 22nd Le Tour de Langkawi, 208km, and also a hard one from Jerteh to Grik where the race last held a stage finish with eventual Tour de France yellow jersey wearer Rinaldo Nocentini won two years after cycling legend Gianni Bugno.