By Anthony Tan
Three days before the September 1 deadline, the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) received a cheque from the country's Sports Ministry, saving the Tour de Langkawi from early death. But without knowing exactly how much the cheque was for, and whether it is indeed enough to cover all debts owing, a question mark still hovers over the race's future.
According to Malaysia's New Straits Times, the transaction was confirmed by UCI Asia Tour coordinator Jamaluddin Mahmood. Once the cheque is cleared, payment will be made to creditors for prize money, hospitality and television costs still owing, estimated to be in the range of 4-7 million Malaysian Ringgit (US$1,09-1,90 million).
Cyclingnews was unable to confirm the amount of the cheque or debts owing with the Malaysian cycling federation, as a gag order by the Sports Minister's office has prevented officials from making comment until all matters are resolved.
Despite a few unknowns and inconsistencies, however, it appears plans are already in motion for Tour of Britain organisers Sweetspot to take over the event's organisation - contrary to Malaysian Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said earlier hopes for the MNCF to do so. Sources at the New Straits Times also told the paper that Sweetspot provided incumbent organisers First Cartel Sdn Berhad with a RM950.000 (app. US$260.000) loan to help bail out the race.
Tour of Britain chief executive Hugh Roberts revealed to Timesport a proposal that includes a number of key personnel - including eight Malaysians - previously involved with the Tour de Langkawi to work on next year's event, which is to be renamed the 'Tour of Malaysia'.
"The Malaysian team form the nucleus of the group who will be on the ground organising the new Tour of Malaysia, and they will be augmented by other key Tour of Britain personnel who have equally played an important role in the past versions of what used to be known as Le Tour de Langkawi," said Roberts.
"The combination of these two important sets of personnel will pretty much be the main driving force behind the execution of The Tour of Malaysia, provided we are given the mandate by the Sports and Tourism Ministries and the MNCF," he said.
Should this deal eventuate, an interesting twist is that the race's board of trustees - being the Malaysian Sports and Tourism Ministries, as well as the national cycling federation - will take over ownership of the race from First Cartel, not Sweetspot. According to Roberts, Sweetspot will be involved mainly in the technical areas of organisation.
As creditors wait to be paid, a place on next year's UCI calendar beckons. It is likely the MNCF will ask the sport's governing body for a late January/ early February placement, similar to previous years, which follows the Tour Down Under in Australia, scheduled for January 16-21, 2007.
See also: Langkawi's future still in doubt