PETALING JAYA: The inaugural five-day Tour of Borneo cycling race kicks off in Semporna with the 102.8km stage to Tawau today.
The withdrawal of Asia Tour overall champions Tabriz Petro-chemical from the UCI 2.2 race has thrown the fight for the general classification (GC) wide open.
Five continental outfits, three national sides (Kazakhstan, Brunei and Malaysia Under-23), six clubs and five state teams will vie for glory in the race.
Stage Four, from Sepilok to Kundasang, features the toughest categorised climb in the race – a category one climb at the foot of Mount Kinabalu where the stage finishes1,242m above sea level.
Veteran German rider Timo Scholz of the CCN Cycling Team is the favourite for the GC. He comes fresh from a third overall finish in the Tour of Philippines last week.
The rest of the stages are likely to be closely contested by teams with strong sprinters like Genesys Wealth Advisers, OCBC Singapore and local outfit Terengganu Cycling.
Genesys’ fast man Anthony Giacoppo won two stages in the Tour of Taiwan last month and should grab some wins in Borneo.
Terengganu, meanwhile, will focus their entire efforts on helping Mohd Harrif Salleh secure a stage win.
Harrif has yet to win a stage this year after coming close with a second place finish in the Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) in February.
He has been focusing on track cycling since then to prepare for the Track World Championships in Melbourne last month. He finished 17th in the scratch race.
“It would be nice to get a win here.
“The stages, except for one with the climb, should go down to bunch sprints and I hope I can be at the front,” said Harrif.
Meanwhile, a battered Ng Yong Li will compete in the race with the Federal Territories club team despite still feeling the impact of his crash last week.
Last Sunday, Yong Li was hit by a motorbike while training on the Middle Ring Road 2 (MRR2) near Taman Tasik Ampang. He escaped with lacerations on his back, arms and head.
“I’m not putting any expectations on the race since I’m still hurting from the crash.
“I will think of it more as a training stint,” said Yong Li.