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

Friday Feature: 2013 WorldTour newbies (part 2)

Here’s part two of our preview of some of the new boys making the step up to riding in a WorldTour team in 2013. You can read part one here.

Mko2012Michel Koch (Cannondale)

The Italian lime-green outfit have signed the 21-year old German, a former national junior time trial champion, from the LKT-Brandenburg Continental team.

With two victories in 2012 – the team pursuit at the national track championship and the Rund um den Bramscher Berg – plus third place in the national under-23 time trial championship, Michel will slot right into the team’s rouleurs in 2013.

JAI2012Jon Aberasturi Izaga (Euskaltel)

The 23-year old Basque resident of Vitoria Gasteiz, having spent three years with the Orbea development squad, is one of the few Basques joining the orange-clad squad next season.

With a solid rather than spectacular palmares, where results have been garnered in largely local races, the youngster will still be a welcome addition to the team.

SvH2012Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp)

The soon to be 25-year old Aussie used his time as a stagiaire this season to show he was more than ready to step up to WorldTour level. The six months he spent in Garmin’s Chipotle feeder team  – now disbanded – allowed him to build on the form he revealed on Australia’s domestic circuit in 2011 and take several sprint stage wins and podium places behind riders of the stature of Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Mark Cavendish (Sky).

He’ll be looking to link up with former teammate and compatriot Nathan Haas and make his mark early on in his home tour, Down Under.

RV2012Robert Vrecer (Euskaltel)

It’s now or never for 32-year old Slovenian Robert to make the transition from Continental team Voralberg to the WorldTour. He’s got eight victories and six podiums to his name this season and his time trialling ability will be much appreciated at the all orange, formerly all-Basque squad.

After seven years in Continental squads, six in local teams and the last with the Austrian unit, the Slovenian will be hoping to make his mark and demonstrate that he can also earn UCI points at the highest level.

Andrea Palini (Lampre-Merida)

The 23-year old Italian sprinter, who’s been winning races since he was a junior, joined Idea at the start of 2012 and immediately made his presence felt with a victory in the first stage of Coppi and Bartali’s Settimana and a great last third of the season with top ten performances in Tre Valli Varesine, Coppa Bernocchi, GP Industria e Commercio Artigianato Memorial Marco Pantani Carnaghese.

These results have opened the doors of the hot-pink Italian squad for 2013. They’ll be hoping Andrea can convert his hot streak into victories at the highest level of the sport.

Ariel Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida)

Also hot-footing it over to the Italians is the 29 year-old Argentine sprinter – one of four cycling brothers – who’s enjoyed 16 victories this season racing on the Asian and European circuit.

His wins in the Tours of Japan, Kumano, Serbia, Venezuela, Hokkaido, his performance in the Pan American games and his good showing in races such as the Giro di Padania, Coppi and Bartali Settimana, Giro di Reggio Calabria Province and Coppa Bernocchi have garnered him precious UCI points and a chance to see if he can also shine on a bigger stage.

Wesley Kreder (Vacansoleil-DCM)

The 21-year old young cousin of Garmin-Sharp’s Kreder brothers, who was riding for the Rabobank feeder team, rode as a stagiaire for Vacansoleil-DCM this summer.

Most unusually for a stagiaire he won a race, the Tour de Vendee and secured a contract for the following two years. He outclassed Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) on the Frenchman’s home turf to claim a brilliant solo victory built in the last 5km after going clear with the Tour de France King of the Mountains. Ostensibly riding for teammate Marco Mercato he seized his chance when Marco had a mechanical. He also scored a number of top five finishes last year.

Alexey Lutsenko (Astana)

This powerful young Kazakh rider caught everyone’s attention when aged only 20 he won the under-23 road race at the recent World Championships after recording victories in the Tour de l’Avenir, Giro della Valle d’Aosta and Tour of Bulgaria and a further ten podium places.

He joined Astana’s Continental squad last year after winning the Asian junior national road race championships. Team manager Alexandre Vinokourov has already proclaimed he’s better than Peter Sagan (Cannondale). If that’s the case, he’ll be one to watch next season.

Anton Vorobyev (Katusha)

The 22-year old Russian has spent the last three seasons with Katusha’s feeder squad Itera-Katusha but has long enjoyed some of the privileges afforded the WorldTour riders on account of his ability on the time trial bike. He’s the current under-23 world time trial champion and the double under-23 national champion.

He cites Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) as his inspiration but team management feel that with his ability in the mountains he may be more similar to Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). He’s now earned a two-year contract with the big boys.

Argiro Alonso Ospina Hernandez (Movistar)

This season, the Colombians were very much the ‘must-have’ helpers in the mountains. No doubt impressed with their existing South Americans – Andrey Amador and Nairo Quintana – Movistar have scooped up Colombian climbing and time trialling 21-year old sensation Argiro from elite team Gobernacion de Antioquia, where his older brother Carlos still rides.

In the last two years he has racked up four victories and a stack of top fives.

Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp)

Another Australian making the step up after five years in development squads. 22-year old Rohan already has a formidable palmares, like many of his compatriots honed on the track – 12 victories – and road – 19 wins.

He’s the national under-23 road race and time trial champion, plus he was runner-up in the under-23 time trial at this year’s World’s. After a fifth place overall and the mountains classification in his home tour, he added victories in the Olympia Tour, Thuringen Rundfahrt and Memorial Davide Chrono Champenois Fardelli. Garmin are going to have one hell of a time trial team.

Gediminas Bagdonas (AG2R La Mondiale)

The 26-year old Lithuanian An Post-Sean Kelly rider was coveted by many WorldTour teams for his nine wins this season which included his national road race championships, the Ronde van Noord-Holland, two stages in the Ras and his runner-up spot in the important German classic Rund um Koln.

He’s a bit of an all-rounder, having tried his hand both on the boards and astride a mountain bike.

Eloy Teruel Rovira (Movistar)

The 30-year old Murcian will be joining Movistar next year after a career spent largely on the track. While he’s been a professional since 2006 and spent three years flirting with road racing in Continental squads, in 2009 he returned to his first love and enjoyed success both nationally and internationally as a track rider.

Others have successfully made the move and at worst we can expect to see Eloy leading the Movistar charge from the front of the peloton.

And that concludes our two-part look at next year’s newbies. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive list nor is it intended to highlight those riders VeloVoices thinks will perform well in 2013 though we do, of course, wish them all much success in 2013 and beyond in their new teams.

(All images are from Cycling Archives/Wikipedia.)