By Shane Stokes
With five weeks remaining to the start of the 2.HC ranked event, the organisers of the Telekom Malaysia Tour de Langkawi have released details of the route for the 2006 race.
There are changes to the orientation of the Malaysian tour, with both the start and finish of the ten-stage event to be based in the vicinity of the country's capital, Kuala Lumpur. The 2006 event will also visit the west and south of the country, regions which missed out twelve months ago.
The pattern of racing has been modified compared to previous years, with the traditional battleground of Genting Highlands coming much earlier than before. This will presumably lead to a more aggressive tour, given that teams in the past tended to wait until Genting to settle the overall classification. The Hors Category climb will now take place midway through the ten-day event, leaving a full five stages for the yellow jersey's team to defend.
The race begins on Friday February 3rd with a short 81.1km stage from KL Tower to Rawang. The following day's flattish stage to Sitiawan looks tailor made for a bunch sprint, but the general classification will be upended just 24 hours later when the peloton tackles the first mountain stage to the Cameron Highlands. This includes a 45 kilometre category 1 climb and is followed soon afterwards by a Hors Category ascent.
A flat 144.5km stage to Kuala Selangor provides some sort of respite before the short, but savage, 90-kilometre leg from Menara TM to the Genting Highlands resort. Days 6 and 7 [to Tampin and Kola Tinggi, respectively] are long, undulating stages which could result in bunch sprints or, equally, play into the hands of the breakaway specialists.
Stage 8 certainly seems to favour a mass gallop, given that the 78.7 kilometres along the West coast to Batu Pahat are flat and fast. This is followed by what is likely to be the final GC decider, a 16.2 kilometre time trial in Melaka.
The race ends with the customary 60-kilometre criterium in Kuala Lumpur. However, in order to ensure a more exciting spectacle for the passionate Malaysian spectators, the previous 6.5 kilometre loop has been shortened to 20 laps of a 3kilometre circuit.
"We've tried to make the route this year a bit more interesting by moving Genting to mid-way through the race and introducing a tough new climb up Cameron Highlands on stage 3," said organiser Imran Abdullah. "With sprinters taking all but two of the stages in 2005, we've tried to balance things more for 2006."
Full details of the teams for the 2006 Tour de Langkawi are expected to be released over the next few weeks. It remains to be seen if the issues relating to the 2005 event will impact on the quality of the line-up this time round; however, the organisers say that they are confident that the 2006 edition will be a successful one.
2006 Telekom Malaysia Tour de Langkawi, Malaysia
Stage 1 - Friday, February 3: KL Tower - Rawang, 81.8 km
Stage 2 - Saturday, February 4: Tanjung Malim - Sitiawan, 164.7 km
Stage 3 - Sunday, February 5: Lumut - Cameron Highlands, 150.3 km
Stage 4 - Monday, February 6: Tapah - Kuala Selangor, 144.5 km
Stage 5 - Tuesday, February 7: Menara TM - Genting Highlands, 90 km
Stage 6 - Wednesday, February 8: Shah Alam - Tampin, 187.7 km
Stage 7 - Thursday, February 9: Muar - Kola Tinggi, 188.2 km
Stage 8 - Friday, February 10: Pontian - Batu Pahat, 78.7 km
Stage 9 - Saturday, February 11: Melaka ITT, 16.2 km
Stage 10 - Sunday, February 12: Kuala Lumpur criterium, 60 km