By Greg Johnson in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Aurélien Clerc (Ag2R La Mondiale) is pleased he can start his season at Malaysia's Le Tour de Langkawi this year, having specifically requested contesting the race instead of the Tour of Qatar. Clerc thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the Asian race last year, where he claimed the overall sprint classification.
"Sure, I wanted to come back here," said Clerc. "I changed teams and they asked me to go to Qatar, but after last year I had a great time here and I ask if it's possible to change, not to go to Qatar but come to Malaysia. For me the race is better, it's longer and there are stages that are more than 200 kilometres."
The Qatar event, organised by the company behind the Tour de France, marks the start of the racing year for many top sprinters and Spring Classic riders like Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia-Highroad). The race is known for being a high-paced event, where riders face strong winds in the sandy landscape.
"I think Langkawi is good preparation for the Classics and the rest of the season because Qatar is very, very fast and for the first race of the year there is a lot of intensity in the race," he said. "So for me here is very, very good."
Clerc pointed to Malaysian rider Anuar Manan (Malaysia National Team) as his main opponent in the sprint classification race this year. The duo where locked in a battle for the sprinter's jersey early in last year's race, and Manan is hoping to become the first Malay stage winner at this year's edition.
"Anuar (Manan) will be very strong this year I think," he added. "I was happy to see him. I don't know everybody here because there's a lot of other [national] teams, but I'm sure there will be a lot of good sprinters."
The Tour de Langkawi starts today with a 133.8km stage from Putrajaya to Senawang.