By Jean-François Quénet in Adelaide, Australia
Some of the riders currently competing in the Tour Down Under will also take part in Le Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia (February 9-17) after completing the Australian tour on Sunday. In Adelaide, they received the news about the replacement of the legendary climb to the top of Genting Highlands by Fraser's Hill, and were happy the grueling Malaysian mountain was taken out of the itinerary.
"I had never done Genting before because this will be my first time at Le Tour de Langkawi", Crédit Agricole's new signing Simon Gerrans reacted. "I don't know what I'll be missing but from my team-mates' reports, I'm actually very happy not to do it. I understood that Genting Highlands has been the reason why many top riders from Europe didn't want to take part in Le Tour de Langkawi in the past few years. I obviously don't know more about Fraser's Hill but from what I heard, it's not as steep as Genting and that opens the race a bit more. I'm excited about it because I become a potential winner among 30 others, which probably wasn't the case until the course was changed."
Another Australian rider was enthusiastic after hearing the news. Matt Wilson who will captain the new American outfit Team Type 1 after winning the Herald Sun Tour in October last year explained: "I prefer to have a big climb on the course because it would be boring if there were only bunch sprints. As long as there is something interesting to do, it's fine. Last time I rode Le Tour de Langkawi was just ten years ago with the Australian national team when I was still an amateur rider. I don't have bad memories of Genting but I'm curious to see what Fraser's Hill is like. It could be the perfect climb for my new team to win the race, rather than making the overall win suitable for two or three Colombian riders only."
Bouygues Telecom's Aurélien Clerc was happy about the change for obvious reasons. "For us, the sprinters, it will mean less worries about the time cut if the new climb isn't that steep, but our job will have to be done before," he stated. Australia's most promising rider Wesley Sulzberger, who ran second in the U23 world championship in Stuttgart and showed great form being a part of the three-men breakaway on his way to Victor Harbor in the TDU, was also excited after hearing he won't go back to Genting Highlands. "Last year I struggled after crashing on stage four," the Tasmanian rider from Southaustralia.com recalled.
"This climb was so hard! It really sorted the race out. I supposed the race can be just as hard as long as we go uphill, but everyone knows Genting and is aware of how hard it is. Now it will be more of a surprise. I'm excited. I should be able to go for GC at Le Tour de Langkawi, otherwise I'll be looking after myself for a stage win."
It sounds like the late scrap of Malaysia's famous climb will generate a more open and more interesting race in 2008.