By Greg Johnson in Kuala Rompin, Malaysia
The Tour de Langkawi had a visitor from out of this world at yesterday's finish in Kuala Rompin, with the nation's first astronaut one of the special guests. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor attended the event's 13th edition dressed in a blue spacesuit with the Malaysian national flag on one side, while wearing polished black dress shoes.
"I have always enjoyed bicycle racing and this is the first time I've seen the Le Tour de Langkawi, even though it's been there for 13 years," he told Cyclingnews. "I'm glad I had the opportunity to come and watch for myself how great it is."
Shukor became Malaysia's first astronaut in October last year when he went on a 12 day trip to study the affects of microgravity and space radiation on cells and microbes. The Malaysian, who was accompanied by American Peggy Whitson and Russian Yuri Malenchenko on the mission, also carried out experiments with proteins for a potential HIV vaccine.
Shukor said that while he's always loved cycling, he is also passionate about other sports. "I'm more into swimming, I'm a national swimmer for 10 years [and] I love sky diving and horse riding," he said.
The rocket used last October was adorned with a Malaysian flag and coat of arms, and his patriotism has flowed through to the peloton of the Asian nation with hundreds of children vying for Shukor’s signature yesterday. Last year's mission, launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, saw another first when Whitson became the first woman to command the international space station.
While the people of Kuala Rompin only have to wait for Friday's Stage 7 start in the town to see another bike race, it will be another two years before they get to watch one of their nationals enter space again. Captain Doctor Faiz Khaleed, a dentist, will be the second Malaysian to enter space in 2010.