He may face formidable competition given the brute that lies ahead but Darren Lapthorne is very much a contender for the overall title, writes Anthony Tan from the Tour de Langkawi.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Four days ago, when I asked Darren Lapthorne to sit down for an extended on-camera interview for Cycling Central, he had just finished his time trial in Putrajaya, Malaysia; a 20.3km race against time that kicked off the 17th edition of the Tour de Langkawi.


He did not know exactly where he finished but told me he knew he'd done a good ride. Good enough, as it turned out, to place him on the podium alongside stage winner David Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda) and his team-mate Adam Phelan, who bowed out of today's fifth stage (a heavy crash in the final kilometres of the opening road stage having taken its cumulative toll).


We talked about a number of things, including his departed sister Britt. I had to hold back tears as he spoke about her because I too have a sister I love unequivocally (even though I don't always show it); and for me to lose mine in similarly tragic, as-yet-unexplained circumstances… well, I would likely be a right mess for a good chunk of the rest of my life.


After temporarily leaving the sport, Lapthorne has managed to rediscover his love for the bicycle and bike racing. What's more, the 28-year-old Melbournian deservedly finds himself in the form of his life.


Tuesday in Pandan Indah, not far from where the race began the previous Friday in Malaysia's administrative capital, he became the new race leader courtesy of an audacious move in the final five kilometres of the 187.2km stage, won by Colombian José Serpa (Androni-Giocattoli).


Shortly after he crossed the line in second place Lapthorne told me he was not thinking about GC – "I was going for the stage," he said. The stage was not forthcoming but should he continue to ride as well as he has this week – and there's no reason to suggest he won't – something much, much larger may just be around the corner.


Despite the climbing talent lurking behind him, an overall win at the Tour de Langkawi is not outside his capabilities. But as he himself said, to make it happen, he must back himself 100 per cent on today's queen stage to Genting Highlands.


Lapthorne can lose no more than 37 seconds to Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda), 46sec to Jos̩ Rujano (Androni-Giocattoli), and 1:08 to Serpa Рwho, rather ominously, all happen to be past winners in this race (in 2003, '10 and '09, respectively).


Though unlike previous years, the Genting stage arrives a few days earlier. It therefore means the race is by no means over even if Lapthorne manages to retain his lead atop the 1679m -high summit – leaving him susceptible to ambush over the next four days.


The loss of Phelan to injury could prove costly, for if he happens to still be in yellow, he only has four team-mates to guard him. Nevertheless, Drapac's Floris Goesinnen and Rhys Pollock have been riding like oxen all week, and if required, I'm sure they'll do all they can to grant 'Lappers' the win he so richly deserves.


And if he does win the whole Malaysian shebang?


Well, I would say he needs to forget about what he told me with regards to his tamed ambitions and see if he can cut the mustard in Europe.

If he can, then it's time for a rethink about what I would regard as unfinished business – joining a Pro Continental or WorldTour team, riding a major classic or Grand Tour, and living the life he once dreamed of and was on the cusp of realising.


Whatever happens tomorrow, and win or lose come the race finish this Sunday in Kuala Terengganu, he has already won. But for the Lapthorne family to truly move on they must get closure on Britt, and for that to happen, they need answers to questions they've been incessantly asking Croatian authorities ever since October 8, 2008.


Twitter: @anthony_tan