Malaysia's Loh Sea Keong has inked a one year contract – plus an optional second year – with Argos-Shimano, as announced by the rider himself and Eugene Koh, the assistant director of Shimano-Singapore in a press conference in Kajang in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on the occasion of the Shimano Highway Challenge on Sunday. The Lekas highway was closed for a 73-km fun ride that attracted 1300 cyclists, a first in Malaysia.
"Shimano has been producing cycling components for ninety two years, but it's also our aim to nurture young cyclists," Koh said. "We help riders from this region [South East Asia] to reach the highest level. To select one of them for Argos-Shimano has given us a headache because there are many good riders developing in Malaysia. Loh's good attitude has attracted our attention. Hopefully he'll become a good ambassador and an icon for our industry. His presence in the WorldTour will motivate more people to cycle competitively over here."
Loh, 27, won the Tour of Malaysia (Jelajah) this year as well as stages at the Tour of Thailand and the Tour of Singkarak while riding in the colours of Singapore team OCBC. Having raced for six years with Dutch-Chinese outfit Marco Polo, he's no stranger to racing in Europe. He has competed in Le Tour de Langkawi eight times and become a household name for his numerous , but he is likely to miss it next February as the Malaysian event that saw his future teammate Marcel Kittel win his first pro race in 2011 is not on the team's provisional calendar for 2014.
"I don't have a race programme yet," said Loh who is not exactly having an off-season as he'll represent Malaysia in the SEA Games in Myanmar on December 18. "One day I’d like to ride a Grand Tour, like [China's] Ji Cheng did [at the 2012 Vuelta a España and the 2013 Giro d'Italia]. But for now I’ll be happy to do whatever the team wants me to do."
"We've been waiting and dreaming for years for a Malaysian cyclist to be part of the World Tour," commented Malaysia National Cycling Federation deputy president Datuk Naim Mohamad. "We've spent endless nights talking on how to make it happen and Shimano has done it thanks to [UCI certified agent] Danny Feng. This is the proudest moment in Malaysian cycling history."
Following the path of Japanese and Chinese riders, Loh will be the first ever cyclist from South East Asia to be part of the WorldTour.