So near but yet so far! This is probably the best way to describe the heroic performance by Dennis van Niekerk (MTN/Qhubeka) on the infamous Genting Highland Climb during the fifth stage of Malaysia’s Tour de Langkawi.
About 200 meters from the top of the climb Van Niekerk was in the lead and for a few seconds it looked as if he might win the tour’s hardest stage.
But then, as if in slow motion, Jonathan Monsalve (AND), Libardo Nino (L2A) and Mirsamad Pourseyedi (IUA) began to claw their way back to Van Niekerk and then, slowly but surely, they managed to pass him one by one.
Van Niekerk described the final minute to the finish as extremely frustrating.
“I thought I had won the stage when the front riders made a slight error of judgment going into the final bend. They did not realize that it was a hairpin corner, so they overshot it slightly. I was sitting fourth wheel and therefore I could see what was happening.
“The moment the riders made the mistake, a gap opened up in front of me. I immediately shot through on the inside into the lead. That was when I thought I had won. But then, about 200 meters from the finish, my legs failed me. Suddenly I had nothing left.
“It was agonizing to see the other riders catching up and passing me. I tried everything in an effort to stay with them, getting up out of the saddle to try to push down harder on my pedals, but it was to no avail.”
Monsalve won the stage over 124.3km in 3 hours 33 minutes and 31 seconds. Van Niekerk crossed the line three seconds later.
Van Niekerk said that after he had finished he experienced a feeling of complete euphoria.
“It is difficult to describe but you cannot help feeling good about yourself when you realize that you have managed to conquer one of the toughest climbs in international cycling.
“It really helps to have Tiaan as our team manager. If I did not follow his advice about riding Genting at my own pace, I might not have had such a good ride. There were countless attacks on Genting but I did not once try to follow. I just kept riding at my own speed and I managed to catch up again every time.
“With ten kilometers to go, there were still 15 riders left, but with one kilometer to go there were just seven of us.”
Nino is now the overall leader. He has a 2 second lead on Monsalve, with Emanuel Sella (AND) third, 19 seconds behind. Van Niekerk is fourth, 22 seconds adrift.
Van Niekerk admits that it will be difficult for him to improve on his overall position in the remaining three stages. They are all pancakes flat and will almost certainly be contested by the sprinters.
“The best I can hope for is to make up time on an intermediate sprint, but I will definitely not try to do that in tomorrow’s stage.”
Van Niekerk was full of praise for the help he had received from his teammates to ensure that he was in a favorable position when the Genting Highland climb began.
“Arran (Brown) and Christoff (Van Heerden) did an unbelievable job, and Bradley also made sure that MTN/Qhubeka was noticed when he managed to get away in the first serious breakaway.
“Actually I think that we are having a great tour, thanks to the guidance of Tiaan Kannemeyer. Christoff is a serious contender in the points competition. Arran contests every bunch sprint and Bradley hardly misses a break.
“I feel sorry for Dylan (Girdlestone). He was looking forward so much to the Genting Highland’s climb and it is a pity that he had the misfortune of breaking his collarbone.