It may only be partway through June 2011 but the 2012 Tour de Langkawi was launched on Thursday, and the full route and stage details have already been confirmed. The race has always had a high level of organization, and is seriously gearing up to try and gain World Tour status in the not too distant future, something it had been expected to be granted some 3-4 years ago, but which instead went to the Tour Down Under and more recently to the Tour of Beijing.
Now heading into its 17th staging, the race has become a popular early season sortie for both mainstream World Tour and Pro Continental teams as well as providing a bigger stage for aspiring Asian teams and riders, many of whom have performed well enough there to earn slots on major European and Australian teams.
In its early days, the race was something of a novelty, being one of the very few races outside of Europe at that time of year, and the only one with the purse and guarantees required to attract major teams to start their season so early. However, the globalisation of cycling has lead to emergence numerous high-profile races during the early season, which has impacted somewhat on Langkawi, although with its UCI 2.HC ranking it still draws a mean crowd, and both Garmin-Cervélo and Astana have indicated that they will take part in the 2012 race.
Without exception, the gruelling 25km ultra-steep climb to Genting Highlands has always been the deciding stage of the race, which explains why so many tiny climbers from South America have long since had a liking for the podium here. But in a determined effort to open things up some more the 2012 edition the race has changed its game-plan just about enough to level the tough playing field favoured by the climbers.
The 10-day, 10-stage race starts out on February 24 with an opening 20.2 km time trial around the “model” city of Putra Jaya, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. This stage will be hot, and most likely windy, with a good chance of an afternoon downpour for the later starters.
This lengthy solo opener should could put as much as a minute between the stronger all-round contenders and the pure climbers, thus making the roll of the dice on Genting (which is a one-off climb at the end of the stage) all the more interesting. It’s not unusual for a stronger rider to hang on to the lead group part of the way up Genting, and then stay just about within touching distance of the climbers: a minute in the time trial could be enough for a non-climber to win the race.
From Putra Jaya the race heads south to the historic port (and UNESCO World Heritage listed) city of Melaka and then to Muar before doubling back towards Kuala Lumpur. These stages are pretty flat, and most likely to end in bunch sprints, although stage 5 into the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Ampang could provide the opportunity for a breakaway, given the rolling terrain and the knowledge that the following day leads the riders to Genting.
From Genting (stage 6) the race heads through the interior to the city of Kuantan and then follows the flat and windy east coast north towards Kuala Ternegganu, taking 4 stages to reach the city. Although the race often takes in the east coast, which is a sprinters’ paradise, the finish in Kuala Terengganu will mark the first time that the race has ever ended outside of the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
In recent years Kuala Terengganu, and the east coast state that that carries its name, have become the virtual epicentre of Malaysian cycling. The majority of the country’s top riders hail from this region, including track sensation Azizul Awang and road sprinter Anuar Manan (who is the only Malaysian ever to have won a stage in the Tour de Langkawi). The state also funds and sponsors Malaysia’s leading Continental team – Ternegganu Pro Asia.
Tour de Langkawi 2012 route
Stage 1, February 24: Putrajaya Individual Time Trial (20.2 km)
Stage 2, February 25: Putrajaya - Melaka (151 km)
Stage 3, February 26: Melaka - Parit Sulong (177.6 km)
Stage 4, February 27: Batu Pahat - Muar (169.4 km)
Stage 5, February 28: Ayer Keroh - Pandan Indah, Ampang (188.4 km)
Stage 6, February 29: Proton, Shah Alam - Genting Highlands (108 km)
Stage 7, March 1: Bentong - Kuantan (215.8 km)
Stage 8, March 2: Pekan - Cukai (100.8 km)
Stage 9, March 3: Kemasik - Kuala Terengganu (169.4 km)
Stage 10, March 4: Kuala Terengganu - Kuala Terengganu Loop (114.1 km)
Total distance: 1414.8 km