Saturday’s penultimate stage of the Tour de Langkawi was meant to be the queen stage, but it has taken on a far less regal air since the marquee summit finish at Genting Highlands was scrapped on the eve of the race and replaced by Fraser’s Hill.
The hors-categorie climb of Genting, which rises 1625m in around 30km, has been used in every edition of the race bar one, and its 15% gradients are always the arena of the general classification showdown. The first-category Fraser’s, on the other hand, rises 1150m in over 20km, and it is doubtful that it will provide the same level of drama.
Not many people seem to know much about the climb, how they will approach it, or the impact it will have on the race compared to Genting, even with the map and profile now available. As MTN-Qhubeka’s directeur sportif Michel Cornelisse said, “Still nobody knows how hard it is. You hear things that it is hard, then things that it’s not hard. It’s difficult to say from the profiles in the book – for example today was not so easy on paper but it was completely flat.”
Cyclingnews spoke to some Malaysian riders and team bosses who have ridden the climb countless times and know it like the back of their hands to get an idea of what’s really in store. It’s safe to say it won’t make for pleasant reading for the likes of pure climbers Sebastien Henao (Team Sky) and Merhawi Kudus (MTN), for whom Genting was the sole draw of the race.
Rusli Amir Mustafa (Rider, National Sports Council Malaysia)
"Fraser’s Hill is a category one hill, a long hill, but actually it’s not really very steep. Genting is a much harder climb because from the start until 2.5km to go, it’s pretty much all 12-15 per cent.
"The early part [of Fraser’s] is easy and the road is fairly wide. Then around five kilometres from the end, it’s a bit steeper at about 10 per cent, with lots of tight corners. That’s where the road narrows a lot, so that is the place to attack as there are few overtaking opportunities. It’s easier than the climb on the third stage [where race leader Caleb Ewan dropped sprint rival Andrea Guardini] and I think Ewan can do it for the GC, because it’s not really steep."
Anuar Manan (Rider, Terengganu TSG)
"I have a house in Kuala Lumpur and every time I go out on my bike there I do Fraser’s Hill. It’s not so steep compared with Genting. At the beginning it’s not very hard so you can use the big chainring, but in the last five kilometres you might have to use the small ring. We do local races up there and it’s not considered very hard, but when we go with a categorised race like this, with higher speeds, it will be harder. Genting, on the other hand, is very steep – I can only go up there at about 11kph, but Fraser’s Hill is different and I think you can go at 24-25kph."
Adenan Afiz Ikmal (Directeur Sportif, National Sports Council Malaysia)
"We do the climb a lot in training and from the bottom to seven kilometres to go, it is like a gradient of eight per cent maximum. But the last seven kilometres are more like 11 per cent, very narrow and only one car can go at a time. It doesn’t compare to Genting and I think a sprinter can climb the first part, it’s just the last part that’s steep. But if the sprinter can hang on then I think he can win. For Caleb Ewan he can ride it no problem."