Le Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia is one of Asia’s biggest cycling events, attracting competitors and teams from around the globe. This year, its 17th edition, takes place over ten days from Friday 24th February until Sunday 4th March. The race is organised by Malaysia’s National Sports Council in collaboration with the Malaysian National Cycling Federation.
What kind of race is it?
The tour is the only event to have been granted category 2.HC status on the UCI Asia Tour. It was the brainchild of former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Mahathir bin Mohamed and for the first couple of years the race started in Langkawi (hence the name), an archipelago of 99 islands off Malaysia’s west coast. The race’s queen stage generally finishes in the Genting Highlands and is often the decisive stage in terms of general classification. The Tour has had its teething and logistical problems which the organisers hope have been put to rest. Indeed, they have their eyes on obtaining WorldTour status in the not too distant future.
This year, for the first time, the winner will be awarded with a challenge trophy based on the iconic eagle monument at Dataran Lang in Langkawi, symbolising the birthplace of the race and honouring the Tour’s founder.
This year’s edition has attracted a total of 120 cyclists representing 22 local and top international professional teams, who will complete a gruelling 1,414.8km stretched over ten days.
ProTeams (2): Astana and Garmin-Barracuda.
Pro Continental teams (6): Androni Giocattoli, Champion System, Colnago-CSF Inox, RusVelo, Europcar and UnitedHealthcare.
Continental teams (10): Asian Racing, Azad University, Drapac, MAX Success Sports, MTN Qhubeka, OCBC Singapore, RTS Racing, Seoul Cycling, Tabriz Petrochemical and Terengganu Cycling.
National Teams (3): Malaysia, Indonesia and New Zealand.
It promises to be a bumper edition this year with no less than six former winners taking the start in Putrajaya, the home of the Malaysian government: Jose Serpa (2009), Jose Rujano (2010) and Yonnatta Monsalve (2011), all riding for Androni Giocattoli, Garmin-Barracuda’s Tom Danielson (2003), Azad University’s Freddy Gonzalez (2004) and Europcar’s Anthony Charteau (2007), all of them vying to equal double-winner Paolo Lanfranchi (1999, 2001).
The most recent winners of the race are:
- 2007: Anthony Charteau (Credit Agricole)
- 2008: Ruslan Ivanov (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli)
- 2009: Jose Serpa (Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli)
- 2010: Jose Rujano (ISD-Neri)
- 2011: Yonnatta Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli)
What happened last year?
The 16th Tour de Langkawi moved from seven to ten stages and the cyclists covered a total of 1,315km, starting with a 94.3km stage in Langkawi. Thereafter, the race headed south from Kangar in Malaysia’s north and concluded in the capital Kuala Lumpur. In the process, the peloton faced two hors categorie climbs back-to-back in the Cameron and Genting Highlands respectively, which proved decisive for the overall.
While many considered three-time Giro d’Italia stage winner Emanuele Sella (Androni Giocattoli) to be the favourite, after returning from a two-year ban he received for testing positive for CERA in 2008, Sella correctly pointed the finger at his younger teammate Yonnatta Monsalve.
The Venezuelan neo-pro Monsalve won the 2011 Tour de Langkawi after taking the all-conquering queen stage five in the Genting Highlands. He finished the final stage safely in the peloton happy to have secured victory – and the King of the Mountains title – by just five seconds ahead of Colombia’s 43-year old Libardo Nino Corredor (Le Tua) who retired after the race’s conclusion.
The final stage was won by Italian sprinter Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini), who ended his first stage race sprinting to his fifth win and the points jersey. Only two other riders have won five stages in the Tour of Langkawi: Australia’s Graeme Brown in 2004 and Italian Alberto Loddo in 2007. Tabriz Petrochemical won the best team prize while Rahim Emami (Azad University) was the best Asian rider.
1. Yonnatta Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli) 30:08:57
2. Libardo Non Corredor (Le Tua) +0:05
3. Emanuele Selle (Androni Giocattoli) +0:24
4. Dennis Van Niekerk (MTN Qhubeka) +0:25
5. Rahim Emami (Azad University) +0:25
6. Lachlan Morton (Chipotle Development) +0:32
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF Inox) +0:56
8. Hossein Askari (Tabriz Petrochemical) +0:56
9. Hyosuk Gong (Korea) +0:57
10. Ghader Mizbani (Tabriz Petrochemical) +1:15
This year’s race
As in 1997, the race starts with a 20.3km individual time trial over relatively flat terrain in the centre of the country before it fans out both north and south in subsequent stages, finishing in the north of the country.
The time-trial is followed by three stages for the sprinters, the first two of which have some category four hills. Stage five is rather more testing, with two category two and one category three climb. These are intended to tire legs ahead of what is generally the decisive day.
Stage six ends with a mighty hors categorie summit finish in the Genting Highlands at a heady 1,679 metres, after a 30km climb. The Highlands form part of the Titiwanag mountain range – an hour by car from Kuala Lumpur – which also houses a number of attractions making it a cross between Las Vegas and Disney World.
The queen stage is followed by a four-day sprint-fest. Overall the race is beloved of both sprinters and waif-like climbers. Classics riders need not apply.
Who to watch
Alexandre Vinokourov, close friend of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has stated his intention to lead Astana – the only Asian ProTour team – to victory:
For us, and for myself in my last year of racing, it is also important for us to be racing in Asia, because we are an Asian team.
Vinokourov was quick to deflect attention away from himself by pointing out that this will be his first race of the season and he’s aiming to find his rhythm as he builds for the spring Classics and the Giro d’Italia.
We have in our team riders who are able to win stages and win the Tour overall, so I’m here to mainly help them achieve that. We have [Andrey] Zeits and [Dmitriy] Gruzdev who are in good form and then [Assan] Bazayev.
Jose Serpa is also making an emotional return to the race. Le Tour de Langkawi was his first professional race after an eleventh-hour UCI registration and a long and tiring trip from South America to Asia back in 2006. Nonetheless, he won back-to-back the flat stage to Kuala Selangor and the grueling uphill finish of Genting Highlands. Four years in a row, Serpa won at least one stage at the race before finally claiming the overall classification on his last appearance in 2009. He’s the only climber to have thrice imposed himself at Genting Highlands.
Tom Danielson is another rider taking a trip down memory lane. He’s leading the Garmin-Barracuda team – including younger Kreder brother Raymond – nine years after his overall win with Saturn, whom he joined after making the switch from mountain to road biking. He added:
This race is close to my heart. I made my career there.
Apart from the previous overall winners, stage hunter Andrea Guardini will be looking to add to his sprint tally for Farnese Vini. Danielson’s teammate Dave Zabriskie will have his sights set on the time trial. The two younger brothers of last year’s runner-up are also taking part: Miguel Angel and Victor Nino Corredor. We’ve also got Stefano and Paolo Locatelli riding with Colnago-CSF Inox. [What, more sets of brothers?! – Ed]
However, I’m most intrigued to see how the MTN-Qhubeka team fares. It will comprise athletes from around the African continent, including four black African riders – Adrien Niyonshuti from Rwanda, Eritreans Jani Tewelde, Meron Russom and Tesfai Habtariam – and two South African riders – Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Dennis van Niekerk (the latter was fourth overall last year).
On the VeloVoices 3D wide-screen we’re going to be tracking the progress of number 184, the evergreen Shinichi Fukushima, riding for the local Terrengganu Pro Cycling Team. He started cycling while studying at Shinshu University and raced in Holland before turning professional with Team Bridgestone Anchor in 1996.
He has competed across the globe, winning races in both Asia and Europe. He became national champion in 2003 and the first and only Japanese to win the overall classification at the 2004 Tour of Japan. He won the overall at the 2005 Tour of Siam and became only the third Asian to win a stage at Le Tour de Langkawi in 2007, where he also won the blue jersey as the best Asian rider in 2008. With his brother Koji Fukushima [not more sets of brothers! – Ed] who is also a professional cyclist, he has been heavily involved in the development of young riders. In 2010, at the age of 38 and despite a puncture, Fukushima won the Japanese National Time Trial Championship, setting a course record.
February 24th: Stage 1 – Putrajaya, 20.3km individual time trial
February 25th: Stage 2 – Putrajaya to Melaka, 151km
February 26th: Stage 3 – Melaka to Parit Sulong, 187.6km
February 27th: Stage 4 – Batu Pahat to Muar, 169.4km
February 28th: Stage 5 – Ayer Keroh to Pandan Indah, 187.2km
February 29th: Stage 6 – Proton Shah Alam to Genting Highlands, 108km
March 1st: Stage 7 – Bentong to Kuantan, 215.8km
March 2nd: Stage 8 – Pekan to Chukai, 100.8km
March 3rd: Stage 9 – Kemasik to Kuala Terengganu, 169.4km
March 4th: Stage 10 – Tasik Kenyir to Kuala Terengganu, 110.7km
Le Tour de Langkawi starts on Friday 24th February and concludes on Sunday 4th March.