By Shane Stokes
As the countdown to this year’s Telekom Malaysia Tour de Langkawi continues, three strong teams have been named to the 2.HC ranked event. Two ProTour squads and a previous race-winning team have confirmed their participation for the race, which begins with an 81.8 kilometre stage from Kuala Lumpur Tower to Rawang on Friday, February 3.
Last year, José Rujano of the Colombia Selle Italia squad finished a close second overall to Team Barloworld-Valsir’s Ryan Cox. The then 23 year-old Venezuelan went on to take a stage win, the mountains jersey and third overall in the Giro d’Italia, confirming the climbing prowess he showed in the Malaysian race. Rujano has been listed as leading the Gianni Savio’s team in the 2006 edition of the Tour de Langkawi and, having finished just 18 seconds back last time, will be aiming for the top spot of the podium next month.
The first of the two ProTour squads announced thus far is French Bouygues Telecom, who will be making its debut in the race. Former world champion Laurent Brochard and 2004 Tour de l’Avenir points winner Sébastien Chavanel have been pencilled in, and should be backed by Franck Bouyer, Giovanni Bernaudeau, Walter Beneteau and Olivier Bonnaire in their campaign.
Also flying in from France will be Crédit Agricole, the squad likely to be led by the big US hope Saul Raisin. The 23 year-old finished a fine ninth in the Tour of Germany last year and 13th in the Tour of Austria. Raisin knows what to expect in Malaysia, having placed 16th in 2005. The talented young rider should be one of the big contenders for the race; likely to be supported by teammates Sébastien Hinault, Francesco Belotti, Christophe Le Mevel, Benoît Poilvet and Cyril Lemoine.
"As you can see from the list thus far, teams are sending some serious rising talents," said First Cartel managing director Imran Abdullah. "You will have Colombia Selle Italia's Venezuelan star Jose Rujano, still only 23 years old. Crédit Agricole will be featuring a 23 year-old American, Saul Raisin, and Bouygues Telecom have named an exciting line-up of riders. With young Chavanel in there, you can never discount them in the sprints."
The 10-stage race will begin on February 3 and see the riders slug it out over 1,161.7 kilometres. The final stage takes place in Kuala Lumpur on February 12.
More TDL team news is expected later this week.