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

Vuelta a Burgos preview

The 34th Vuelta a Burgos, which runs from today (Wednesday) until Sunday 5th August, is a five-stage event classified 2.HC on the UCI European Tour, often seen as an appetiser for the subsequent Vuelta a Espana. The race started in 1946 and ran the following year before resuming in the late 1980s when it became a professional event.

What kind of race is it?

While the race has something for everyone it’s typically won by a climber. The race’s decisive queen stage is generally the final one which climaxes on the hors catégorie climb of Lagunas de Neila. Traditionally the event features a hilly parcours and, some years, an individual or team time trial.

Spanish riders have won this race more than any other nation and the most successful rider is the Basque, Marino Lejarreta, with four victories – 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990. The race’s golden years were in the 1990s when it attracted all the top riders such as Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong, although neither won the overall title. Its demotion in 2005 below the UCI’s top tier meant it was deserted by sponsors and television. Accordingly, in 2009 responsibility for organising and financing the race was assumed by the local province.

The most recent winners of the event have been:

2007: Mauricio Soler (Barloworld)

2008: Xabier Zandio (Caisse d’Epargne)

2009: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne)

2010: Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

2011: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

What happened last year?

Last year Katusha’s pint-sized Joaquim Rodriguez won two stages, the points jersey and the overall honours in dominating fashion in preparation for his assault on the leader’s jersey in the Vuelta a Espana.

Vuelta a Burgos 2011 podium l to r Dani Moreno, Joaquim and Pablo Rodriguez, Juan Jose Cobo (image courtesy of official race site)

Vuelta a Burgos 2011 podium (l to r): Dani Moreno, Joaquim and Pablo Rodriguez, Juan Jose Cobo (image courtesy of official race site)

Defending champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) claimed stage one and the leader’s cyclamen jersey atop the Cat 3 Juan del Monte. Katusha set a fierce tempo at the foot of the final climb, and Rodriguez made his move inside the final kilometre only to see it countered by Sanchez.

Rodriguez bounced back with an emphatic victory on the following stage at El Castillo in Burgos. His team again set a fast and furious tempo on the 7km finishing circuit, from which Rodriguez launched his explosive uphill attack to a solo victory with teammate Daniel Moreno runner-up. Sanchez finished third, seven seconds behind the winner, to whom relinquished the leader’s jersey.

Movistar claimed a hard-fought victory in the fast 11.6km team time trial from Pradoluendo to Belorado, beating Katusha by ten seconds. The Spanish squad reached a top speed of 66.6kph to take victory, which it dedicated to Andrea Pinarello, the recently deceased son of the team’s bicycle sponsor. Rodriguez remained in the lead, while Sanchez lost 24 seconds on the day to drop to fifth overall.

Stage four featured yet another uphill finish dominated by Katusha. Rodriguez launched his attack with 500m remaining with teammate Moreno and stage one winner Sanchez on his wheel. With 200m to go, Moreno pounced to take victory in Ciudad Romana de Clunia by just one second.

Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi) took his maiden pro victory on the final stage on the tough uphill finish to Areniscas de los Pinares, surging clear of Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC) in the final 300 metres. Cobo hung on for second place, three seconds back, while Rodriguez finished third at 12 seconds, celebrating his overall victory. Sanchez started the stage fourth overall, 21 seconds down on Rodriguez, and went for broke over the penultimate climb. But, perhaps realising he didn’t have what it would take to break Rodriguez, he elected to let Landa attack. Sanchez was dropped while Rodriguez, Moreno, Cobo and Fabrice Jeandesboz (Saur-Sojasun) led the pursuit of the young Basque rider. Landa was caught by Rodriguez and Cobo but put in a late surge to take a well-deserved victory and the King of the Mountains classification. Euskaltel-Euskadi also took the team competition while Kenny De Ketele (Topsport Vlaanderen) took the sprints jersey.

1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +15:12:34

2. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:36

3. Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TCM) +0:45

4. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +1:23

5. Fabrice Jeandesboz (Saur-Sojasun) +1:52

6. David Lopez (Movistar) +1:58

7. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) +2:06

8. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +2:25

9. Sergio Pardilla (Movistar) +2:34

10. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +2:55

This year’s race

The Vuelta a Burgos covers 775km over five days in the province of Burgos in Spain. The race starts at Miranda de Ebro and finishes, as usual, on the decisive hors catégorie climb of Lagunas de Neila, which has ramps reaching an eye watering 17%. Prior to that there are a further six climbs: three Cat 2s, one Cat 1 and a Cat 3 to tire the legs.

Vuelta a Burgos 2012: Stage 5

Vuelta a Burgos 2012: Stage 5

The first day’s stage is undulating and finishes on the Cat 3 summit at Ojo Guarena. The second day’s stage is effectively three circuits of Burgos finishing atop the Cat 3 climb Alto del Castillo. Day three is also quite lumpy –  Santo Domingo de Silos to  Lerma –  including three Cat 3 climbs, the last of which, the Alto de Majadal, is just 25km from the finish. The fourth stage is 170km along a relatively flat coastal road – one for the sprinters perhaps? However, if it’s windy the GC contenders will need to be to the fore to avoid being distanced.

18 teams are taking part: eight WorldTour teams, eight Professional Continental squads plus two Continental teams –  Orbea, the Euskaltel feeder squad, and local team Burgos-BH.

Who to watch

This event is naturally well-supported by the Spanish teams and defending champion, Rodriguez, and many others who animated last year’s race, will again be taking part. Its proximity to the Vuelta and its hilly parcours have also, this year, attracted riders whose Tour hopes were dashed by falls and illnesses. For example, Rabobank are fielding both Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema. Sky have their young, exciting Columbian duo of Sergio Henao and Olympic silver medallist Rigoberto Uran who’ll no doubt be riding in support of Chris Froome at the Vuelta.

Jonathan Monsalve (image courtesy of Androni Giocattoli Venezuela)

Jonathan Monsalve (image courtesy of Androni Giocattoli Venezuela)

Fabrice Jeandesboz (Saur Sojasun), the only rider last year to break the Spanish stranglehold on the top ten – and who won’t be taking part in the Vuelta – will no doubt be hoping to improve on his fifth position. Argos-Shimano’s want-away Alexandre Geniez will also be looking to shine and hopefully land a new contract. Apart from the Sky duo, there’s plenty of other Colombians and South Americans who’ll be finding the parcours very much to their liking: the entire Colombia Coldeportes team and Acqua & Sapone’s Carlos Betancur.

VeloVoices will be keeping a close eye on one of Androni Giocattoloi’s South Americans, Jonathan Monsalve, a 23-year old Venezuelan who racked up some impressive victories locally before moving over to Europe. He’s likely to be riding in support of team leader Emanuele Sella but might just be let off the leash on one of the hillier stages.

Race details

August 1st: Stage 1 – Miranda de Ebro to Complejo Karstico Ojo Guarene, 135km

August 2nd: Stage 2 – Burgos, 159km

August 3rd: Stage 3 – Santo Domingo de Silos to Lerma, 159km

August 4th: Stage 4 – Dona Santos to Ciudad Romana de Clunia, 170km

August 5th: Stage 5 – Comarca Pinares to Laguna de Neila, 179.5km

The Vuelta a Burgos starts on Wednesday 1st August and concludes on Sunday 5th.  For live coverage check

Link: Official website