- Chris Graetz
Sella, Pozzovivo and Rolland among the stars on show
The sixteenth Le Tour de Langkawi starts on Sunday with a 94.3km stage in Langkawi. From Monday, the race will head south from Kangar in Malaysia's north and conclude in Kuala Lumpur and in the process, the peloton will face two Hors Categorie climbs back to back in the Cameron Highlands and Genting Highlands respectively, which will decide the tour.
Considered the biggest race in Asia, the Tour of Langkawi has moved from seven stages to ten, and the cyclists will cover 1315 kilometres in the quest to be crowed the 2011 Tour de Langkawi champion.
Highlighting the start list is three-time Giro d'Italia stage winner, Emanuele Sella. The Italian is trying to continue his career after a two-year ban he received after testing positive for Cera in 2008. The twenty-nine year old has signed a contract with Androni Giocattoli and is the favourite with the stages in the Highlands to suit him.
Sella, however, is looking to prepare for races later in the season, including the Giro and has down played his chances instead mentioning team-mate Yonnatta Monsalve as the man to watch.
"This is a good race and it’s a good country to train and prepare in," Sella said. "It's pretty hot. I'm here to train for races later in the year but would hope to do well in one of the stages. Yonnatta Monsalve is riding well at the moment and will climb very well here,” he concluded.
Colnago's Domenico Pozzovivo is another rider who could challenge for overall honours, but like his fellow countryman Sella, he is here to train. Nonetheless, he will look for a stage win, highlighting the stage to Genting as the one most suited to him.
French climber Pierre Rolland will lead the Europcar squad. The 24-year-old is considered one of France's future bright hopes and has shown his climbing prowess in the Criterium du Dauphiné, winning the mountains classification twice. If Rolland is on form, he will be hard to stop.
Tabriz Petrochemical Team has enjoyed success in the past and will be led by Iranian cyclist Ghader Mizbani. The 35-year-old will be dangerous and with Hossein Askari as his right hand man, he could get up for the win.
The Korean team will be led by Hyo-Suk Gong. The 25-year-old will look to better his performance from 2010, where he finished in second place behind Venezuelan Jose Rujano.
Australian's David Pell (Drapac Professional Cycling) and Jai Crawford (Giant Kendra Pro Cycling Team) cannot be dismissed either.
Robert Forster (United Healthcare), Kenny Van Hummel (Skil-Shimano), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Tom Palmer (Drapac), Amir Rusli (Malaysia National Team), Annuar Mannan and Harrif Salleh (Terengganu Proasia), Rico Rogers (Giant Kendra) are just some of the sprinters who will be gunning for a stage win and the points classification with up to eight stages suiting the fast men.
Forster will lead the United Healthcare team and according to him, a stage win is the team's main priority.
"I'm here with a new team and it's important we work together. We are after a stage win...that is most important," he described.
Annuar Mannan is looking to defend the points jersey he won last year and believes he has the form not only to defend the jersey, but to win a stage or two.
"I'm aiming for the sprint jersey again and at least one stage. I have done a lot of training with my new team-mates and hopefully the team will work hard and well together this year," he explained.