For Eric Wohlberg, Malaysia and the Tour de Langkawi were great sights of success in his personal career. Twenty years on from winning gold in the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games and bronze in the road race, Wohlberg returns to Malaysia as the team director with Rally Cycling.
The American Rally team successfully applied for Pro Continental status for 2018, and in doing so opened up its racing calendar to a new level compared to previous years. The move up the ranks ensured a stage start in Malaysia and another visit to the race for Wohlberg.
"I love coming here to this country, so that's why I was so excited to finally get the team in," Wohlberg told Cyclingnews. "It's been a while since we've done it. I think the last time was Kelly Benefit Strategies back in maybe early or mid-2000s. We've been chasing this start for a while so we are very happy."
Whereas the Tour de Langkawi was one of the first races on the calendar when Wohlberg was riding, in 2018 Rally has already ridden events such as Ruta del Sol, Dubai Tour and Tour of Oman before lining out in Malaysia. The race, though, still maintains an important place on the calendar, according to Wohlberg, despite a number of changes.
"I always used to start my season off in Malaysia with Tour de Langkawi back in the day. It was a little bit earlier but it was always a great way to start my season," said Wohlberg, who won two stages of the race in the late 1990s.
One change to the race that Wohlberg would like to see is the return of the climb to Genting Highlands at 1,600 metres in elevation. The climb hasn't featured since 2014, with the lower slopes of Cameron Highlands now the finish of the queen stage.
"You have a really good variety of stages here. You have some longer ones, you have some flatter ones, you have stages for the sprinters and stages for the climbers," he said. "They don't have Genting in this year, which is disappointing. Not that I could ever get up that thing very well myself, but that was always a classic stage. I think Cameron Highlands is tough enough to shake up the G,C so it is a good variety of stages. The people here are so friendly as well, and the organisation is good so I have never had any but great experiences here."
For 2018, Wohlberg has a versatile squad at his disposal but one with an emphasis on sprinting. That's no surprise, considering seven of the eight stages are expected to finish in bunch gallops.
"Danny Pate is our road captain, and he has so much knowledge. He is really the foundation of the team out there. He is the guy who makes the calls in the heat of the moment. Danny is not necessarily going to be stage hunting or GC hunting himself, but he'll be leading the team as per usual," he said of how the team is approaching the racing under the stewardship of Pate.
In the sprints, Rally is riding for Eric Young, a rider for whom Wohlberg has high praise and believes can emulate his past stage win success at the Tour de Langkawi.
"I have a lot of confidence in Eric Young. He has amazing horsepower and is coming off some good track work," he said of the two-time American criterium champion. "He did some good rides in the desert a couple weeks ago, so I think he is in pretty good form right now and he is lightning fast. I feel pretty good about our chances. I would put him against pretty much anyone, honestly."