TdL, 2002 - Stage 9 (Penultimate Stage)
Greetings again folks! As mentioned earlier, this journal will also revolves around the Tour de Langkawi, 2002 but this time it's the penultimate stage - Stage 9 (Menara Telekom - Genting Highlands). Everything began at PJ Hilton on that memorable day. I arrived the hotel at about 9:30 to meet up with the guys and get ready to go up to Genting Highlands. The atmosphere was simply magnificent. The whole lobby area was congested with cyclist and bikes all over!

We were among the last few to depart the hotel for the starting line, which is at Menara Telekom. This was because the manager had to layout the exact plan so that his riders can execute it accordingly! If there was a day which the Colombia - Selle Italia team can pull a win. It was that day! A day with high altitude that suits the Colombians and Italians perfectly! I was in the second team car together with Michele and Libardo.

We waited quite a while before all the cyclist were being called up to the line. So, during that period of time, I took the opportunity to have a quick word with some of the guys as well as capturing some of the Kodak moments with them! No doubt, they can only speak Italiano. Thank goodness for electronic translator that I had with me along the Tour. Life was so much more wonderful as I can understand them a little and they roughly knew what I was trying to say!

Things weren't so smooth from the start line to the zero kilometre mark. There was a crash in Taman Tun, which include 2 Team Telekom Malaysia riders, and Mapei's Davide Bramati. Fortunately, no one was badly injured. All of em' got up and try put themselves back into the main pack again.

The main field was pretty intact for the first 90km, although there was a winding section with millions of potholes, which I found the team cars struggling hard to avoid them. As soon as the "KOM START" sign was seen by the roadside, riders were being dropped off like flies from the peloton. Among the first few casualties was M. Khalilov (Colombia-Selle Italia). He had done his job for the day by pushing it hard during the flatter section of the stage. We went up to him and replinished his water bottle with some isotonic drinks but now he has to work his way up the mountain all by himself. He told us to drive on and assist the other teammates.

The next person that we saw was A. Nauduz with some other riders from different teams. We passed him a can of Coke and moved on. We overtook most of the riders at the back of the peloton and then decided to pull over and wait for them. I had a quick "pit-stop" =) while waiting for the guys to pick up their drinks.

However, before we can even give them a second round of boost. There were few guys from the Acqua Sapone's team car shouted out in Italiano that out first team car has paged for us on the walkie-talkie but because all of us were out there, we didn't get the message. Apparently, Ruber Marin has launched an attack and it's the second team car's responsibility to assist him cos' the first team car was with the potential yellow jersey winner - Hernan Munoz! We sped our way through to the head of the pack and then towards him.

He was looking fit and in a very relax climbing position. His cadence was high and every stroke that he pedalled, the gap got bigger and bigger. Ultimately, he had a strong 2 minutes lead over the chasing pack which includes his teammate - Hernan Munoz. In the final 5km, team crews were not allowed to give the riders anymore drinks. Otherwise, the entire team will be penalized as the commissioners were everywhere to keep an eye on the teams.

The three of us in the car were cheering and trying to boost up his mental as well as physical strength. My favourite word was "Andare! Andare! Andare!" which means "Go! Go! Go!". It wasn't that long before Hernan Munoz throws down the hammer and made a breakaway together with South African's David George. Both of them was neck to neck and they managed to pick up Ruber Marin in the final 2km and dropped him right away!

As soon as Hernan Munoz and David George cleared the way, the first team car overtook us and went to be by his side. We had to continue assisting Ruber Marin till the finish line. The car radio was reporting non-stop about the time gap between Hernan Munoz and Mapei's Robert Hunter. When the news broke out that the gap has grown to 2 minutes, all of us rejoiced! Knowing that the chance of taking over the Maillot Jaune is huge!

When we reached the finish line at the First World Hotel, Marco - the team manager had the biggest smile ever. Then, we knew that Hernan Munoz has got himself a stage victory and most probably taking the overall lead. However, things were still uncertain because Robert Hunter might close up the gap during the final 2km.

Nevertheless, the moments of truth arrived when Robert Hunter crossed the line with more than 2 minutes deficit over Hernan Munoz! The entire team celebrates in awe! This year is the third year of participation and the results is simply incredible! All of us put up a night at Resort Hotel and then returned back to Grand Blue Wave Hotel, Shah Alam early in the morning to get ready for the final day at Kuala Lumpur.

In summary, words are just not enough to express the entire situation and atmosphere during that period of time. The tension and jubilation is just breath-taking! I look forward to having them and being with them again next year. Until then, enjoy life and happy riding!

~ Vince

p/s: more pictures at the gallery