CUKAI: Australian Commonwealth Games gold medallist Stuart O’Grady finally stepped out of the shadows to end a three-year winless streak for Credit Agricole in the Tour of Langkawi by wresting the team’s first-ever stage victory yesterday as Saturn’s Nathan O’Neill held on to the leader’s yellow jersey.
O’Grady, fresh from winning the Australian championship and finishing third in the recent Tour Down Under, launched his charge from the 200m mark and went on to pip compatriot and the previous day’s winner, Graeme Brown of Ceramiche Panaria, at the finish.
Stage Six, one of the shortest stages in this year’s tour, was flagged-off in Kuala Terengganu and ended 136.3km later in the southern Terengganu town of Cukai .
For the 29-year-old O’Grady, a gold medallist at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, yesterday's victory was particularly sweet because the French-based Credit Agricole team are down to only four riders after two others were eliminated after failing to finish the race a day earlier.
O’Grady, who has been a professional since 1993, had held the yellow jersey in the 1998 Tour de France for three days. He had also finished second in the battle for the green jersey behind German Erik Zabel in the Tour de France 2000 and 2001.
“I knew the finish will be technical and as I’ve said before, it will be an advantage to me as I like that sort of a sprint,” O’Grady said.
“It took me a few days to acclimatise to the local weather after the Tour Down Under but I’m not complaining. It’s certainly been a while since I last won a bunch finish.”
Brown had some consolation despite failing to win his second stage in two days. He is still in the top sprinter’s green jersey.
“I realised when I went out that he (Stuart) was just behind me but I did not expect him to go around,” said Brown. “I went out a little too early and against a headwind too. But coming in second is better than third.”
Canadian Roland Green maintained his hold on the king of the mountain jersey but had to give up his second spot in the overall classification due to a puncture he suffered about seven kilometres from the end.
“The guys came back to help but it was already too late,” added Green, who slipped to 63rd after coming in 108th yesterday.
In the battle among Asian teams, Telekom Malaysia team emerged winners for the stage with a combined time of 8' 32:9. Iran ’s Hossain Askari also held on to the blue jersey but only narrowly as Indonesia ’s Tonton Susanto is rapidly catching up.
The best Malaysian finisher yesterday was Suhardi Hassan who came in 37th.
Stage 6 (136.30km): 1. Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole) 2'50:43, 2. Graeme Brown (Panaria) 2'50:43, 3. Simone Cadamuro (De Nardi) 2'50:43, 4. Miguel Perdiguero (Domina) 2'50:43, 5. Allan Bo Andresen (Fakta) 2'50:43, 6. Gert Vanderaerden (Palmans) 2'50:43, 7. Andrus Aug (De Nardi) 2'50:43, 8. Hendrik Van Dyck (Palmans) 2'50:43, 9. Gabriele Missaglia (Lampre) 2'50:43, 10. Rojo Nacor Burgos (Colchon) 2'50:43.
Overall leader: 1. Nathan O'Neill (Saturn) 18'45:16, 2. Tom Danielson (Saturn) 24secs behind, 3. Eric Wohlberg (Saturn) 27, 4. Hernan Dario Munoz (Selle Italia) 38, 5. Freddy Gonzalez (Selle Italia) 39, 6. Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole) 41, 7. Graeme Brown (Panaria) 45, 8. Brett Lancaster (Panaria) 46, 9. Fortunato Baliani (Formaggi) 48, 10. Tim Johnson (Saturn) 51.
Leading Asian overall standings: 1. Hossain Askari Iran 18'46:23, 2. Tonton Susanto (Telekom Malaysia) one second behind, 3. Ghader Mizbani (Telekom Malaysia) 21, 4. Kazuya Okazaki (Jpn) 22, 5. Satoshi Hirose (Jpn) 29, 6. Tsen Seong Hoong (Telekom Malaysia) 54, 7. Wong Kam Po (Telekom Malaysia) 55, 8. Mahdi Sohrabi (Iran) 57, 9. Alireza Haghi (Irn) 1:02, 10. Shinri Suzuki (Jpn) 1:07.