Dougall is Dimension Data's Tour de Langkawi lucky charm

South African racing in Malaysia with one eye on the classics

Although Dimension Data's 2015 and 2016 Tour de Langkawi winners in Youcef Reguigui and Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg, respectively, declined to defend their titles, Nick Dougall is back in Malaysia eyeing off a third consecutive team victory.

The British-born South African is one of the key men for current race leader Ryan Gibbons in the sprints but will also be crucial for Mekseb Debesay and Ben O'Connor on the queen stage to Cameron Highlands.

"There is always pressure when you come to races and expectation, most of all, you put on yourself," Dougall told Cyclingnews. "We come here wanting to repeat what we've done the last two years and try and win. We have a lot of cards to play. We brought a strong team with a lot of depth.

"We have a good mix of younger guys and guys with experience. Jacques has been at the race six times, I have done it three times. Ryan's obviously new, but he raced in Europe last year, and Adrien [Niyonshuti] has been with the team for almost nine years now. It is a good team, and I am really enjoying working with the team this year."

While the 24-year-old is focused on the job at hand, Dougall is also eyeing the race as a preparation for the cobbled classics, his first major aim for the season.

"It would be good to get in a break at some point if the opportunity presents itself and really use the race as a workout before the classics," he said. "I really want to go well there, and I think it is really good build up. I am looking forward to making the race as hard as I can for myself."

Dougall made his Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix debuts last year as he conducted his biggest classics campaign to date. In 2017, Dougall is aiming to use his experience from last year to assist, in particular, Edvald Boasson Hagen in claiming one of the monuments.

"I would like to be a bit more consistent than I was last year. I went into E3 going well and then was feeling really good at Gent Wevelgem but then crashed at Flanders and was sick for Roubaix," he said. "It would be really nice if I can have a bit more consistency throughout the whole two-week block. We really want Eddy to try and get a win. It is one the races which have been eluding us, a big spring classic, so hopefully, I can be there for him and play a role. Whether that is in a breakaway or towards the end of the race, that is what I am aiming for."

It was only "two or three year's ago" that Dougall was one of the millions of viewers tuning in to watch Flanders unfold, so it's no surprise he described the experience of lining out at the 100th edition of De Ronde as "surreal".

"I never thought of myself as a classics rider until I went to Belgium and started racing the classics and really started enjoying and thinking this is the racing I like and I can do well here," he said. "Ever since then, I have always wanted to do those bigger races. The Tour is the Tour, it is a massive race, but the atmosphere of the classics is also special."

Dougall's race programme after the classics will be geared towards a return to the Vuelta a Espana, explaining that getting the Spanish Grand Tour into his legs is perfect for next year's classics.

"I hope to do the Vuelta again. Last year was great, I didn't have great prep for it as I got injured in the middle of the year and it affected my build-up," he said. "I am hoping to have a better build up this year and we have race calendars built around that. It is always good to do that and finish the year going strong and you don't come down so much so it is an easier build up for the next year of the classics."

First though, Dougall is committed to the task at hand of securing the Langkawi 'hat trick' for himself and Dimension Data. 

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