By Jean-François Quénet in Kuala Lumpur
In Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, just a few days prior to the next Monday's start of the 14th Le Tour de Langkawi, Yukiya Arashiro found himself impatient to meet his new partners from the Bbox Bouygues Telecom team. They are expected to check in at the Palace of the Golden Horses in the south of the Malaysian capital on Friday.
Frenchmen Giovanni Bernaudeau, Yohann Gène, Arnaud Labbe, Guillaume Le Floc'h and Johann Tschopp will ride alongside their new Japanese recruit in the seven-day Malaysian race. The 24-year-old from Okinawa seduced team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau with his aggressive racing style. He proved to be efficient, too, as he won stage two in the 2008 Tour du Limousin, a race in which he finished third overall in 2006. Consistency on French soil has earned him his dream, a pro contract, after he moved to Normandy in 2004 and rode for small club EC Aumale upon the completion of his studies and giving up his aims of becoming a professional handball player.
Arashiro's attacks were noticed by the staff of Bouygues Telecom at Le Tour de Langkawi, in which he competed the past two years. He proved to be a decent sprinter as he came seventh in stage four from Gua Musang to Kota Bahru in 2007. "We have different approaches of the sport of cycling, and we are very interested to discover his," Bernaudeau said.
"I hope to win races for Bbox-Bouygues Telecom, including a stage at the Tour de France," Arashiro said. "I also want to grab the Japanese national title again. I went to France in December for the Bbox Bouygues Telecom training camp. I've had the impression this team is a real family. It's also very open in terms of tactics. There's no designated captain. Any team member is likely to try and win and to get a chance to participate to the Tour de France. At Le Tour de Langkawi, I'll first do my best to gain the confidence of my teammates, I'll also try and win stages and GC."
Tschopp will lead the French team in Malaysia. "Considering his power-to-weight ratio, the climb of Genting Highlands will suit him more than Fraser's Hill last year," coach Philippe Mauduit presumed. The Swiss climber was on his way to contest the stage win up to Fraser's Hill in 2008, but he lost all his hopes due to a flat tyre with 2km to go.
Arashiro's debut with Bbox Bouygues Telecom has attracted huge media attention from Japan in Malaysia with the national TV channel NHK notably planning to report on Le Tour de Langkawi.