KUALA LUMPUR: Despite “losing” one of their most experienced riders, the Malaysian team are convinced that they can still mount a strong challenges in the Tour of Langkawi cycling championships thatwill be held from Jan 31-Feb 9.
The absence of team stalwart and seasoned campaigner Tsen Seong Hoong, who will don Team Telekom Malaysia colours, has also paved the way for some juniors to move up the ranks and compete in the Tour.
Malaysia has four experienced riders – Musairi Musa, Shahrulneeza Razali, Wong Ah Thiam and Mahazir Hammad. Together with three talented juniors – Suhardi Hassan, Shahrizan Selamat and Sazalee Ismail – they aim to make amends for their second last place finish in the overall standings last year.
It was Malaysia's worst finish in the Tour's seven-year history since becoming the Asian category team champions in 1999.
However, with several capable climbers in the team, Malaysia are hoping to improve on their performance and the target for the team is to finish among the top three Asian teams.
Besides hot favourites Telekom, the main challenges will come from newcomers Iran and Japan, considered giants in Asian cycling. The Philippines make up the list of Asian teams in the Tour.
Musairi is determined to help put Malaysia back on the winning track.
“Everything looks good. We’ve been training hard for the past few weeks with emphasis given to mountain training.
“We’ve covered almost 1,000kms so far and in the coming days, there’ll be more long rides,” said Musairi, who rode for Telekom last year.
Musairi added that the juniors were also performing well in training with Suhardi and Shahrizan proving to be stronger in the climbs.
“We have four good climbers in Shahrulneeza, Ah Thiam, Suhardi and Shahrizan. Barring injuries, they should be able to produce good results in Genting (the penultimate leg of the 10-stage Tour),” he said.
However, the Malaysians will have to be at their best to match several top Asian climbers who are coming for the Tour. Among them are Iran's Ahad Kazemi, Ghader Mizbani and Amir Zagari, Japan's Koji Fukushima, Hong Kong's Wong Kam Po and Indonesia's Tonton Susanto.
A total of 154 riders representing 22 teams will see action in the eighth edition of the Tour, which covers a distance of 1,343km.
The Tour begins with the individual time-trial over a 9.5km route in Langkawi.