The 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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website