By Jean-François Quénet in Kuala Lumpur
Two promising sponsorships accompanied the beginning of a new year for Malaysia's first UCI continental team NPC-LeTua. The 12-man squad has joined forces with car racing team Meritus that operates successfully in GP2, Formula V6 Asia and Formula BMW Asia and will race in partnership with the National Press Club of Malaysia, who hosted the team's launch for the 2008 season in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
NPC-LeTua's roster for the Jelajah Malaysia (UCI 2.2), Asia's first international bike race of the year, running from January 7-13, was also announced. It will consist of top sprinter Anuar Manan, who won a stage in the 2.1 ranked Tour of Hainan in November 2007, Sayuti Zahit, Ahmad Haidar Anuawar, Nor Ridzuan Zainal, and the two Indonesians Tonton Susanto and Ryan Ariehaan.
The LeTua team rose from humble beginnings, registered as a club in 1996 - the year of the birth of Le Tour de Langkawi - and formed by cycling enthusiasts who all contribute financially to support the riders. "We have to change the way we have managed this team for taking it to a further level," team manager Shukor Yassin explained. "That's why we have tied up with the National Press Club of Malaysia for the promotion of cycling and advice. We want to become a top cycling team in Asia and become a top-five finisher on GC at Le Tour de Langkawi in the next three years."
The presence of Peter Thompson at the launch was highly noted. Together with Firhat Mokhzani, the Irishman owns the motorsports team Meritus Racing. "My best friend in Ireland is Stephen Roche," the Kuala Lumpur-based car racing manager said as an explanation for his passion and investment in cycling. His drivers, including 15 year-old Formula One prospect Jazeman Jaafar, will be invited to cycle for fitness together with the LeTua riders in some specifically organised training camps.
The NPC-LeTua roster for 2008: Anuar Manan, Sayuti Zahit, Ahmad Haidar Anuawar, Nor Ridzuan Zainal, Azrul Hafidz Awang, Mohd Asril Abdul Rahman, Mohd Khairuz Abdul Ghani, Nicklos Minol (all Malaysians), Tonton Susanto, Amin Saryana, Ryan Ariehaan from Indonesia and Low Ji Wen from Singapore.