Tour de Langkawi preview

Tour de Langkawi 2013 logoThe 18th Tour de Langkawi – one of Asia’s biggest and best known races – begins in Malaysia tomorrow, with its customary mix of big climbs punctuating an extended sprint fest. This year’s race is bigger than ever, with the number of ProTeams attending up from two to five.

What kind of race is it?

The Tour de Langkawi is one of only five 2.HC on the UCI Asia Tour and, at ten days, is the longest other than July’s Tour of Qignhai Lake. It has been a ten-day race since 2011.

In fact, there are two distinct races within the race. The battle for the general classification is largely concentrated on one or two high summit finishes (there are two this year), with the rest of the event given over to the sprinters, who have ample opportunity to target wins, with each edition typically featuring seven or eight stages which favour the fast men.

With big-name stage racers largely opting to stay in Europe ahead of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, Langkawi is often dominated by Pro-Continental teams, and in particular South American climbers. Colombian or Venezuelan riders have won six times, including the last four in a row, with riders from the climbing-focussed Androni Giocattoli team always showing well.

The most recent winners of the race are:

2008: Ruslan Ivanov (Moldova)

2009: Jose Serpa (Diquigiovanni-Androni)

2010: Jose Rujano (ISD-Neri)

2011: Jonathan Monsalve (Androni Giocattoli-Serramenti)

2012: Jose Serpa (Androni Giocattoli)

What happened last year?

2012 winner Jose Serpa (image courtesy of Tour de Langkawi)

2012 winner Jose Serpa (image courtesy of Tour de Langkawi)

Garmin’s David Zabriskie led the race for the first four days after a dominant win in the opening time trial. He would not relinquish the leader’s yellow jersey until stage five, when Androni’s Jose Serpa won from a successful two-man break. In between, Farnese Vini’s Andrea Guardini had stamped his authority on the sprint stages with three straight victories.

Serpa won again at the top of Genting Highlands – the fourth time he had won that particular stage – to take over the yellow jersey by 30 seconds from teammate Jose Rujano. That effectively set the GC in stone, as Colnago neo-pro Marco Canola won stage seven from a break before Guardini closed out with a second hat-trick of sprint wins to finish with six overall.

1. Jose Serpa (Androni Giocattoli) 32:55:31

2. Jose Rujano (Androni Giocattoli) +0:30

3. Victor Nino Corredor (Azad University Cross) +1:03

4. Alexandr Dyachenko (Astana) +2:20

5. Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli) +3:50

6. Stefano Locatelli (Colnago-CSF Inox) +4:15

7. Ghader Mizbani (Tabriz Petrochemical) +4:23

8. Andrey Zeits (Astana) +4:28

9. Dennis Van Niekerk (MTN Qhubeka) +4:33

10. Joseph Cooper (New Zealand) +4:44

Our 2012 race reviews can be found here: Stages 1-5, Stage 6, Stages 7-10

This year’s race

The 2013 edition delivers a double-whammy of genuinely punishing summit finishes which will determine the general classification by the halfway stage of the race.

The pain begins on stage three with a concluding climb to 1,500 metres in the Cameron Highlands. This will blow the peloton to smithereens and see all the major contenders come out to play on what promises to be a hot, humid and sapping 141km stage.

Stage 3 ends with a summit finish in the Cameron Highlands

Stage 3 ends with a summit finish in the Cameron Highlands

Two days later, a short (110km) stage five is sure to see fireworks as it represents the last chance to shake up the GC. The finish is at the resort of Genting Highlands, 1,679 metres above sea level. The parcours is essentially identical to last year’s queen stage, won by Jose Serpa, who went on to claim the overall.

Stage 5's finish at Genting Highlands should decide the GC

Stage 5’s finish at Genting Highlands should decide the GC

In and around these two big climbing stages every other day offers the likelihood of a bunch sprint, though several are far from routine. Some stages feature a series of smallish climbs in the closing kilometres which could favour late attacks. Others have hard-to-judge uphill finishes which will challenge the sprinters’ staying power. Those who survive the mountains unscathed will have the prospect of a five-stage sprint-fest to sweep them to the finish. In all, eight of the ten stages could be claimed by the fast-twitch men.

Who to watch

Guardini will be looking to add to his 11 Langkawi wins (image courtesy of Astana)

Guardini will be looking to add to his 11 Langkawi wins (image courtesy of Astana)

With so many sprint stages on offer, it’s no surprise that the bigger teams have arrived heavily loaded with quick men. Astana can now boast Guardini, who won 11 stages here over the past two years for Farnese Vini. However, the young Italian will face a greater depth of rival talent this year. It will come as little surprise that Omega Pharma-Quick Step will focus their efforts behind a British sprinter, although in this case it will be Andrew Fenn rather than Mark Cavendish. Fellow ProTeams Blanco and Garmin-Sharp will line up for Volta ao Algarve stage winner Theo Bos and Aussie Steele Von Hoff, while Orica-GreenEDGE will most likely look to Aidis Kruopis.

There’s plenty of sprint talent in the European Pro-Continental squads too. Vini Fantini have Francesco Chicchi, Europcar double Etoile de Besseges stage winner Bryan Coquard and UnitedHealthcare German veteran Robert Forster. My pick of the local sprinters would be Salleh Harrif from the Terengganu team, who had three top-four finishes in the 2012 edition.

Pierre Rolland (image courtesy of Europcar)

Rolland will be one of the big GC favourites (image courtesy of Europcar)

The winner of the general classification is likely to come from outside of the WorldTour squads. Although Serpa is not defending his title, 2011 winner Jonathan Monsalve is present with Vini Fantini. Last year’s third, fourth and fifth-placed finishers also return: Victor Nino Corredor (RTS), Alexandr Dyachenko (Astana) and Jackson Rodriguez (Androni Giocattoli). Androni’s Carlos Ochoa is another potential danger man.

However, the rider with the strongest pedigree is Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, who will be opening his 2013 campaign here. The Frenchman has placed in the top ten at the last two Tours de France and can count victories on Alpe d’Huez and La Toussuire on his palmares. If he’s in good form, he should win.

Race details

February 21st: Stage 1 – Kangar to Kulim, 162.7km

February 22nd: Stage 2 – Serdang to Kuala Kangsar, 117.8km

February 23rd: Stage 3 – Sungai Siput to Cameron Highlands, 140.7km

February 24th: Stage 4 – Tapah to Kapar, 168km

February 25th: Stage 5 – Proton to Genting Highlands, 110.3km

February 26th: Stage 6 – Mentakab to Kuantan, 217.5km

February 27th: Stage 7 – Kuantan to Dungun, 149.8km

February 28th: Stage 8 – Kuala Terengganu to Tanah Merah, 164.5km

March 1st: Stage 9 – Pasir Puteh to Kuala Berang, 123.6km

March 2nd: Stage 10 – Tasik Kenyir to Kuala Terengganu, 114.8km

The Tour de Langkawi starts on Thursday 21st February and concludes on Saturday 2nd March. For live coverage check

Link: Official website

Who’s moving where for 2013? #2

From the sublime to the ridiculous, sporting transfer gossip offers no end of opportunities for speculation and distraction. Suffice to say, cycling is no different. This weekly column will bring you up to speed with the latest, greatest (and downright absurd) cycling rumours for your own examination and contemplation.

Ivan Basso – Liquigas to Saxo Bank?

Ivan Basso (image courtesy of Liquigas)

Image courtesy of Liquigas

According to the latest rumours, Liquigas – who will be rebranded Team Cannondale in 2013 – cannot afford to keep hold of their number one climber, Ivan Basso. The 34-year-old Italian, who has ridden for the outfit since 2008, is said to be close to a return to Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Bjarne Riis, who he rode under at Team CSC prior to a doping ban in 2006. Source (in Danish)

Liquigas are withdrawing as a title sponsor ahead of next season after eight years, possibly paving the way for the 34-year old’s departure. Saxo Bank are the favourites for his signature, and he would join an outfit who have strengthened impressively ahead of next season with the likes of Roman Kreuziger, Nico Roche and Matti Breschel.

Will it happen? 3/5. Whether the rumours about the team being strapped for cash are true or not, I’m not sure. However, while Basso would almost certainly be Cannondale’s top climber after the departure of Vincenzo Nibali to Astana, the fact that the likes of key mountain domestiques Sylwester Szmyd and Eros Capecchi are off to Movistar next year suggests he wouldn’t have much mountain support. However, there’s little question he would arrive at Saxo Bank in a domestique role himself. It’s an intriguing rumour and one which will undoubtedly be watched closely.

Jose Rujano – Androni Giocattoli to Euskaltel?

Image courtesy of Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela

According to reports in Spain, Venezuelan rider Jose Rujano could become a rare non-Basque rider on the Euskaltel-Euskadi team, moving to the WorldTour outfit from the UCI Pro Continental team Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela. Rujano is 30-years-old and a very capable climber, finishing on the podium in the 2005 Giro d’Italia and sixth in the 2011 edition. Source (in Spanish)

Reports suggest that the traditionally all-Basque team are being forced to look further afield in order to recruit riders who will guarantee them more WorldTour points, ensuring their place in cycling’s top tier. They have even been linked with non-Hispanic riders, like German Andre Schulze. Vacansoleil and Sky have also all been linked with a move for Rujano.

Will it happen? 3/5. With Rujano moving into the latter stages of his career, a move to a top team is probably the only way he can guarantee the chance to repeat a Grand Tour podium. The Basques may not be happy, but it certainly appears feasible.

Andrew Fenn in Quick Step swap deal for Sky’s Cavendish and Eisel?

Image courtesy of Omega Pharma-Quick Step

It is widely accepted that Mark Cavendish will be moving to Omega Pharma-Quick Step next season after a frustrating summer at Sky. It comes as little surprise to hear that Cav’s best chum and trusty right-hand man Bernie Eisel will be thrown into the deal too. But there has been an interesting twist to the story, with the Gazet Van Antwerpen reporting that Sky want an unnamed “talented young rider” currently on the books of Omega Pharma-Quick Step to be thrown into the deal. Source (in Dutch)

Rumour has it that it is young 22-year-old Briton Andrew Fenn being used as a bargaining chip by Dave Brailsford, a former track champion and winner of the under-23 British national road race championship in 2010. This season he has won two of the five races which make up the Vuelta a Mallorca – the Trofeo Palma de Mallorca and the Trofeo Migjorn.

Will it happen? 4/5. Given that Sky are losing tw0 big-name, valuable riders it comes as no surprise that they want to be fairly recompensed. Given that Fenn is British he’d most likely be delighted with a move to Sky, with Brailsford likewise. It certainly seems to have some substance.

Pippo Pozzato – Farnese Vini to Saxo Bank?

Image courtesy of Farnese Vini

There has been another twist in the Pippo Pozzato transfer saga we first reported on in the last update. After strong links with either Movistar or Katusha, Saxo Bank now appear to have joined the chase for the 31-year old Classics specialist. Source (in Danish)

Pozzato finished on the podium of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and in the top ten of Milan-San Remo this season, and it is little surprise the Italian is being linked with a move back to a team in the WorldTour. 

Will it happen? 4/5. I am fairly certain he will be back in the WorldTour next season, the only question is with which team. Saxo Bank are probably the team with the strongest Classics squad, especially with the re-signing of Matti Breschel to join Nick Nuyens, and because of this Pozzato must surely be considering a move to Bjarne Riis’ outfit.

Friday Feature: The Brits are coming

Are we on the verge of a golden era of British road cycling? While Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins grab the headlines and the attention of casual fans, it is the strength in depth of British riders which is raising eyebrows among the cognoscenti. While Cavendish was winning a brace of stages at the Tour of Qatar last week, 21-year old Andrew Fenn (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) bagged a double at the Mallorca Challenge, while Endura’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke won two stages plus the overall classification at the Tour Mediterraneen. It was an unprecedented week of success for British cycling.
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