By Greg Johnson in Alor Setar, Malaysia
Tinkoff Credit Systems rider Alberto Loddo is determined to win tomorrow's Tour de Langkawi opening stage, with the Italian entering the event as the sprinter to beat. Loddo joins a top-shelf team from the Italian Professional Continental outfit, with last year's Langkawi stage winner Pavel Brutt and strongman Nikolai Trusov also on the team.
"My condition is good, I was just in the Tour of Qatar where I won a stage so there is no pressure on me for winning my first race of the year," explained Loddo. "I will try to win stage one as I have seen that it suits me with a corner [followed by a 500 metre finishing stretch]."
Race director Alain Rushton interrupted to add that the finish of tomorrow's opening stage has had a two corners removed, meaning a corner will be followed by a 500 metre long straight. Loddo's former boss, Gianni Savio, joked in response to the news: "We asked them to change it because it was too much easy for Alberto..."
Loddo dominated last year's Langkawi race with five sprint stage victories, despite not being able to dent eventual winner Anthony Charteau's (Crédit Agricole) insurmountable lead. Frenchman Charteau broke away on the third stage, claiming himself enough of a buffer to protect him through to the event's finish.
"I've noticed that there are more sprinters here this year that will make for better sprints," added Loddo.
The Italian has enjoyed a strong season to date, after claiming his first sprint stage victory at last month's Tour of Qatar. The Italian got the better of some of the world's top sprinters, including eventual overall winner Tom Boonen (Quick Step), to claim stage four of the race in the Middle East.
Despite losing Loddo to rival Italian squad Tinkoff this season, Savio was clearly happy to see Loddo back at the race and named him as the sprinter to beat. "The most important sprinter is Alberto Loddo, who won five stages last year with our team, now is in Tinkoff, a good team," said Savio. "I think [Loddo's] the rider here who has more possibility to win."
Savio added that he expects the heavily revised parcours of this year's race, which is missing both the Genting and Cameron Highlands climbs, to produce some spectacular battles between Loddo and Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli sprinter Danilo Hondo.