By Jeff Jones, Bikeradar.com
Malaysia's Le Tour de Langkawi says that it isn't worried about not being a part of the ProTour and therefore not attracting all the top teams. Organisers claim the reduction in ProTour teams contesting the event is a reflection on happenings within the sport on an international scale rather than a reflection on the event itself.
This year's race, which runs from February 9-17, will feature just three ProTour squads: Credit Agricole, Bouygues Telecom and Ag2r-La Mondiale. But the race organisers say that's not a problem, instead pointing to the number of teams coming that will be riding at least one of the three grand tours (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España). CSF-Navigare, Tinkoff, NGC Medical-OTC Industria Porte, Serramenti Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli and Karpin-Galicia all fall into this group.
"For those who follow cycling, it will be a subjective matter in deciding what the pinnacle of cycling is," said Datuk Naim Mohamad, the race's chief operating officer in a statement. "For most, the three grand tours - Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España - are incomparable, the best of the best in stage race cycling.
"Besides the committee, we had evaluated input from contacts in Europe and dealt directly with teams which were interested. Finally we realised that it didn't really matter, in fact we went for the option of pursuing teams with better followings, which are those that compete in the grand tours."
The approach of Le Tour de Langkawi is in contrast to that taken by Australia's Tour Down Under, which has been pursuing ProTour status for several years. It was finally awarded it in 2008 meaning that local fans could see the world's top 18 teams in action. But that was a two-edged sword as for the first time ever, each stage was decided in a bunch sprint. And the most aggressive team in the race was the non-ProTour team, UniSA. Le Tour de Langkawi has taken this on board:
"At this stage, to identify the level of a team is not necessarily by which tier of the league they belong to, but by how good their teams are," said Datuk Naim. "And to most of us, the best teams are those who compete in the big three races. On top of that, we want the teams who come here to perform, not just be here because they are ProTour teams.
"This doesn't necessarily mean that we'll always stick to this format in our selection, but this can be quite interesting as well ... We always think of the European teams as the strongest, but if you look at what happened last year, it was Asia's best team - Giant Asia - who bagged the overall team title. This is why I believe we need to keep up to date and be able to provide a nice balance of teams in order to have an interesting race."
The race starts on February 9 with a 182km stage from Alor Star, Kedah to Kepala Batas, Penang. It finishes nine days and 1,377km later in Kuala Lumpur. Due to logistical problems, the main climbing stage has been moved from Genting Highlands to Fraser's Hill.