Tabriz Petrochemical rider Hossein Askari Hairul celebrates after winning the Jelajah Malaysia Kuala Kubu Baru- Genting Highlands leg yesterday. — Pic: ANUAR ABD RAHIM
IRAN’S Hossein Askari seized victory in the decisive stage of the Jelajah Malaysia from Kuala Kubu Baru to Genting Highlands yesterday but Le Tua’s Indonesian rider Tonton Susanto fended off a two-pronged attack from the Tabriz Petrochemical team to maintain his grip on the overall lead.
Tonton, at 34 years old and not far from retirement in an illustrious career, virtually confirmed his first ever overall victory in a stage race.That happened after he kept a cool head, having used up all his teammates at the foot of the final climb to Gohtong Jaya and was left to battle it out with Tabriz
’s Askari and Ghader Mizbani
, who was just four seconds behind him in the general classification (GC) before the start of yesterday’s 122.2km stage.Askari, the reigning Asian road race champion, won the stage just 10 seconds ahead of second placed Giant Asia rider David McCann, one of the early favourites who only made his presence felt yesterday.Tonton came in third, 12 seconds behind Askari but most importantly, he gained time bonuses and also finished ahead of Mizbani to hold on to his overall lead.
“It was difficult to sleep last night (Friday) because the pressure was tremendous. I had never been in this position before (leading a race entering the decisive stage) and it would be my first overall victory.”But today (yesterday), everything calmed down and the team gave me the confidence and support to ensure my victory,” said Tonton, who will dedicate his success to his daughter, Narraya Rasia Putri, who turns two next month. He was to have been a father for a second time, but his wife suffered a miscarriage a month before the Korat Sea Games last month.The support of the Le Tua team was focused solely on Tonton yesterday, with points classification leader Anuar Manan even forgoing attempts to collect points in the three intermediate sprints, as the team kept the bunch together behind a group of four escapees until the foot of the first climb in Hulu Yam.Anuar maintains Le Tua’s grip on two leaders’ jerseys in this race, not threatened by Tabriz’s Hossein Jahabanian though the latter has closed the gap to five points.Coming in first in the final climb at Gohtong Jaya, Askari secured the polka dot king of the mountains jersey, while the Tabriz team took charge of the overall teams classification lead.Jelajah Malaysia ends with the 60km Kuala Lumpur Criterium at Dataran Merdeka today, one that is unlikely to change any classification results, apart from the one for the blue jersey held by Anuar.