Malaysia's youth and sports Minister YB Khairy Jamaluddin and organisers of Le Tour de Langkawi revealed during the launch of the 22nd edition that a reduced budget from the government forced them to go on a strong cost-killing operation, but the race will meet its usual UCI H.C. standards in 2017, starting in Kuala Terengganu on February 22 and ending in Putrajaya on March 1.
"In 2017, the Ministry of Youth and Sports will be focused on the organization of the South East Asian Games [to be held in Malaysia in August]," said Khairy. "The ministry has had to cancel, postpone or reduce the budgets of other sporting events due to the priority in terms of finances given to the Sea Games, but seeing the popularity of LTdL and its importance as a sports tourism event for the nation, we decided it has to continue, even with a reduced budget."
"Potong," which means cut in bahasa Malaysia, was the main word used at the press conference in Putrajaya. "The first way to reduce the costs was to not start on the island of Langkawi even though it remains our trademark," CEO Emir Abdul Jalal explained. "Instead, we've wanted to focus on places where cycling is the most popular in Malaysia. It starts with Terengganu where the race came to an end on three occasions (2012 to 2014). This is the heartland of Malaysian cycling. We respect what they've done for cycling and it's time for us to give them something back."
Terengganu TSG has been Malaysia's popular continental team since 2011 and there's a new one in the making, Emir revealed as he mentioned the yet-to-be announced Sapura Cycling sponsored by the eponymous oil company, and directed by former pro Sergi Escobar who won the bronze medal for Spain in the individual and team pursuit at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Colombians Victor Niño, 43, from Taiwanese outfit RTS-Monton, and Wilmar Perez, 30, from China's Ningxia Sports Lottery, Spain's Eloy Teruel, 34, from Louletano-Hospital de Loule in Portugal, are rumoured to have been recruited as well as seven Malaysians including former UCI world cycling centre student Sofian Nabil and Muhamad Zawawi who won a stage in the recent 2.2 Jelajah Malaysia.
From Terengganu, the race will head north with a demanding course to Grik in the Malaysian jungle where Gianni Bugno won a stage back in 1997. The queen stage will be on day 4 with the same finish in the Cameron Highlands that saw the brilliant victory of Astana's Miguel Àngel Lopez this year. The last four stages are expected to be bunch sprints.
"This may be the toughest year ever for us to organize, given the current economic situation and the limited budget, but we will endeavour to deliver an equally exciting race for the fans and spectators", said Emir. "We will not be able to put on a lavish race with too many luxuries. But the standards of organization and the quality of racing will be maintained. We still have the capacity to host the World Tour and Pro Continental teams we're talking to at the moment.
"The other challenge we face is the increased number of World Tour events on the calendar this year," the race organizer continued. "It makes it more complicated for some Pro Teams to attend Le Tour de Langkawi even though they love our race and know how beneficial it's been for young pros to step up. Lopez is the latest perfect example as he won the Tour de Suisse after showing his exceptional talent in Malaysia. Even with fewer teams on the start line, we will stick to our policy of at least half of them being truly Asian from the continental ranks. In that particular category, we pay attention to not inviting teams with a doping history. We want a very clean race as we are fully focused towards getting corporate sponsors on board to bring the event forward into the future."
Le Tour De Langkawi 2017 Route
Stage 1 - Wed, 22 February 2017 : Kuala Berang - Kuala Terengganu (130 km)
Stage 2 - Thurs, 23 February 2017 : Jerteh – Gerik (208.1 km)
Stage 3 - Fri, 24 February 2017 : Serdang – Pantai Remis (118 km)
Stage 4 - Sat, 25 February 2017 : Seri Manjung – Cameron Highlands (174 km)
Stage 5 - Sun, 26 February 2017 : Tapah – Dataran Merdeka (148.8 km)
Stage 6 - Mon, 27 February 2017 : Senawang – Muar (176.3 km)
Stage 7 - Tues, 28 February 2017 : Bandaraya Melaka – Bandar Baru Bangi (148.8 km)
Stage 8 - Wed, 1 March 2017 : Setiawangsa – Putrajaya (121 km)
Total distance: 1,225 km