By Greg Johnson in Alor Setar, Malaysia
Australia's Simon Gerrans believes his Crédit Agricole squad is in good shape to defend the Tour de Langkawi title won by Frenchman Anthony Charteau last year. Charteau, who is riding for Caisse d'Epargne this season and won't be defending his title, won last year's event after claiming an insurmountable lead following a break away on Stage 3.
"I think as far as Crédit Agricole's overall chances there's probably myself and Nicolas Roche, and I'm in good condition because of the Australian summer - plus Nicolas seems to be going well in training the past few days," said Gerrans, who finished 45 seconds down in last month's Tour Down Under.
The French squad is just one of three ProTour outfits at this year's race, but has one of the top rosters with Gerrans, a former Tour Down Under winner, and Roche giving the squad a double pronged attack at this year's event.
Gerrans believes the opening stages will play out similar to this year's Tour Down Under, with bunch sprints providing a close race through to the Fraser's Hill climb next Saturday. The rider then expects the race to open up, as the TDU did following the Willunga climb on the penultimate stage last month.
"As far as the overall titles goes I think it will probably stay pretty quiet over these first few sprint stages," he explained. "With so many sprinters here I think you can expect a lot of teams working to ensure a bunch sprint during the first week of the race.
"It'll come down to Fraser's Hill," he added. "From what I hear there's not a lot of elevation per kilometre but hopefully it's difficult enough that we can make the race and split it up a little on the climb so that we don't end up with too many guys and another bunch sprint at the top."
While Gerrans is pinning the French squad's hopes in the Fraser's Hill climb, the rider has yet to see the Genting Highlands replacement and won't know until the day what may be possible.
"It really depends how difficult this climb is and whether it's long enough to still have a race at the finish," he said.
Despite the decline in ProTour teams from five to three, Gerrans believes they will still play a vital role in the way the nine stage race unfolds.
"I think we can definitely see a strong enough break away stay away," he said. "But each of the sprinter's teams are going to have to have a rider represented and be happy for that rider to go for the stage win. But in saying that each of those ProTour teams here has a sprinter so as soon as a team is represented at the front you're going to see a team chasing behind."
The 13th Le Tour de Langkawi gets underway later today, with the 182.6 kilometre stage from Alor Setar to Kepala Batas.