LANGKAWI: The battle for supremacy in the Tour of Langkawi will start today when the 93.4km first stage kicks off from Dataran Lang to Jalan Padang Mat Sirat here.
A total of 10 stages await riders in the Tour and two back-to-back Hors category mountain stages should be the defining stages that will separate men from boys in the Tour.
Although no ProTeam outfit will be making an appearance this year as they shift their attention to Australia for the UCI World Tour event, the Tour Down Under, the Tour of Langkawi managed to attract eight pro-continental teams who had stints in Grand Tours like the Girod’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain).
Among the eight pro-continental teams are Italian outfit Androni Giocattoli, Colnago – CSF Inox (Ireland), Europcar (France) and Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli (England).
The Tour will also have 12 continental teams, all of which have riders who can challenge for the coveted yellow jersey. Among the teams are Tabriz Petrochemical, Aisan Racing and Drapac Professional Cycling.
Completing the 23-team line-up are national teams of Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore.
Androni, who were known as Selle-Italia and Serrementi PVC Diquigiovanni before, will have Emanuele Sella as their lead rider.
Sella, a regular for the team in the Giro, has vast experience as a climber and that would definitely help in tackling the Cameron Highlands and Genting Highlands stages.
Sella will be backed by team-mates Antonio Santoro and Venezuelan Yonnatta Monsalve, both regarded as climbers for the future to fight for the yellow jersey (individual general classification).
“The weather is very hot and humid here, but we are in the midst of preparing for the season in Europe and I will do my best in the climbs and try for the yellow jersey,” said Sella. Team Europcar, formerly known as Bbox Bouygues Telecom have Pierre Rolland, a top five finisher in one of the stages in last year’s Tour de France in their stable. Together with Yukiya Arashiro, the teams should mount a serious challenge for the points classification jersey.
Continental team Le Tua are also keen on the yellow jersey this year, as they have employed the services of Colombian climber Libardo Nino Corredo to tackle the mountain stages.
Tabriz will once again feature stalwart Hossein Askari who finished third in Genting last year and eventually took third place in the individual general classification.
The South Korea national team are also a force to be reckoned with in the Tour. Rider Gong Hyo-suk, who finished second in the individual general classification and eventually as the best Asian rider, will have strengthened his ambition to grab the yellow jersey this year.
Several national champions will also add some spice to the Tour this year with Japan champion Takashi Miyazawa (Fernese Vini-Neri Sottoli), Hong Kong’s Tang Wang Yip (Champion System), Iran’s Mehdi Sohrabi (Tabriz Petrochemical) and Malaysia’s Mohd Adiq Hussainie Othman (Drapac Professional) in the fray.
Said Miyazawa: “I think I have a good chance to win a couple of stages in the Tour. I don’t see myself going for the yellow jersey, but I will give a good fight for the blue jersey (points classification).”