Following Julián Arredondo's stage victory at the Giro d'Italia, Anthony Tan says the time has come to proceed with caution rather than suspicion.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

On March 2, 2013, my Cycling Central colleague Sarah van Boheemen and I were in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia for the final stage of the Tour de Langkawi, south-east Asia's most important stage race.

The air was filled with the oppressive humidity that the tropics naturally bring, but also one of suspicion.

Julián Arredondo, a rider from Team Nippo-De Rosa, a non-WorldTour team (there were five top-tier squads at that year's race), had won.

He did not win the first mountain stage to the Cameron Highlands - that was Chinese rider Wang Meiyin; people immediately became suss about him, too. Nevertheless, he rode away from the peloton of favourites to second place, 44 seconds ahead of a group containing Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE), eventual second overall, and Jonathan Monsalve (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia), the 2011 race champion.

Two days later, however, on Stage 5, the decisive ascent to Genting Highlands, a beast of a thing that tames all bar the purest of climbers (you can read Steve Thomas' account of it here), and on a gradient that befitted the 58-kilo flyweight to a T, Arredondo saw no peer.

Atop the merciless 17 kilometre ascent, the top ten looked like so.

Stage 5: 110km: Shah Alam - Genting Highlands
1 Julian Arredondo (COL) Nippo-De Rosa 3hr 11min 41sec
2 Pieter Weening (NED) Orica-GreenEdge 0:00:26
3 Victor Niño Corredor (COL) RTS Racing 0:00:44
4 Sergio Pardilla (ESP) MTN-Qhubeka 0:01:05
5 Peter Stetina (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:01:28
6 Amir Kolahdozhagh (IRI) Tabriz Petrochemical 0:01:40
7 Tsgabu Grmay (ETH) MTN-Qhubeka 0:01:43
8 Fortunato Baliani (ITA) Team Nippo-De Rosa 0:01:47
9 John Ebsen (DEN) Synergy-Baku Cycling Project 0:01:50
10 Nathan Haas (AUS) Garmin-Sharp 0:01:58

The Colombian, a junior national champion in 2006 (note his contemporaries, and from what you've seen of them the past two seasons and particularly at this year's Giro d'Italia, think how good he had to be), displaced previous leader Wang who had capitulated, losing 5'13, and now enjoyed a 1'22 buffer to Weening.

With five mostly flat days remaining the overall was a fait accompli for Arredondo, so long as he stayed upright, which, in light of the huge variation in ability at this level, is easier said than done.

But he got through, and so, by the time the race ended in Kuala Terengganu, he conceded just seven seconds to Weening and preserved his 2'10 advantage over third overall, Sergio Pardilla. Other than Weening, Garmin-Sharp's Peter Stetina and Haas were only WorldTour riders in the top ten, fourth and ninth, respectively.

Given the aura of doping innuendo, that, by the time the race ended, had reached fever-pitch, Sarah asked him about his superlative ride the past week-and-a-half, and whether he was surprised.

"I have prepared for this race very well," Arredondo said calmly.

"It doesn't matter if the other riders are from the ProTour or not. I have spent four years in Italy and I'm used to winning important races at international level in Italy. Only last year (2012) I raced very little because of the visa problems that I told you about, but I still came second in the Tour of Japan, second in Kumano and fourth in Japan Cup.

"For me, it really doesn't matter if teams are Pro (WorldTour) teams or not but what matters is the mentality for winning."

In her blog, 'Expect the unexpected', Sarah wrote: "While these performances would be extraordinary in any race, do we question the legitimacy of these performances purely because they bettered the WorldTour teams?"

Some have labelled racing in Asia as 'The Wild East' but as history now tells us it wasn't much, or any, better in old Europe till very recently, either. In fact, many say - myself included - that across the peloton, this year's Giro is the purest, most credible stage racing we've seen for a long time, which in large part explains why it's been so exciting.

Thursday at the Giro d'Italia, 15 months on from his Langkawi triumph, and now riding for a WorldTour outfit, Trek Factory Racing, Arredondo proved the strongest out of a 14-rider escape, winning the stage to the Rifugio Panarotta, and is now a shoo-in to win the mountains classification, too.

Relentlessly, he'd been attacking for the past two weeks; four times, he finished second.

No-one was surprised. No-one asked him doping questions. Julián Arredondo was, by all accounts, the real deal.

"I've been through difficult periods in my career. I was sixth in the under-23 standings in Italy, but no one wanted to sign me. I called Team Colombia, who said they'd call me back, but never did. Then Andrea Tonti called me and said, 'Trust me, come and ride for my team.' Little by little, the path has led me to moments of glory. After years of struggle and hard work, I'm finally with a team that provides me with calm and security. I've shown that I can perform and I have put my trust in the right people," he said.

"Today is the beginning, I hope, of great things for me."

At the end of her blog, Sarah asked: "Are we forever going to be suspicious of unexpected performances or do we need to reevaluate our expectations?"

I think we need to reevaluate our expectations.

Proceed with caution, but not with suspicion.

SBS will broadcast every stage of the 2014 Giro d'Italia LIVE! There will be nightly highlights at 5:30pm on SBS ONE, and each stage will also be streamed live here at Cycling Central.