This year's Le Tour de Langkawi has attracted one of the best fields to date with five ProTeams set to arrive in Malaysia when the race holds its official presentation on the small island of Langkawi. Astana, Blanco, Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, Orica GreenEdge and Garmin Sharp are among the 22 teams named for the 10-day race that runs from 21 February-2 March and covers 1,469.km.
Langkawi has been dominated by Colombians and Venezuelans over the past four editions with the most recent 'big name' winner going back to 2007 when Anthony Charteau took the title. This is still early in the season for many of the European professionals which makes picking the favourites difficult however, a large contingent of ProTeam riders are arriving with at least one stage race in their legs.
A number of teams stayed on in Australia following Tour Down Under and others will be coming from stints in Qatar, Oman and even the Volta ao Algarve. This time around the ProTeams are better prepared for what looks to be one of the most hotly-contested editions ever.
Andrea Guardini may have adjusted his program to the upper-echelon of the WorldTour but he is the reigning 'king' of the sprints, having amassed 11 stage wins in just two participations. It will be his first time in Langakwi with his new Astana team which should bring extra firepower to the punchy sprinter on the numerous flat days.
Guardini won't have it all his own way as Blanco's combination of Theo Bos and Graeme Brown - a nine-time stage winner - look to upset the young Italian's charge. There's plenty of other notable sprinters with MTN-Qhubeka's Jacques Janse Van Rensburg, OPQS's Andrew Fenn, Garmin Sharp's Steele Von Hoff and a quality combination in the Orica GreenEdge outfit with Australia's Allan Davis and Lithuanian Aidis Kruopis.
In the general classification department only one former winner will be attending in a field that seems to lack a clear favourite so expect a few surprises from some lesser know riders and teams.
The 2011 winner Jonathan Monsalve is coming back but this time with the Vini Fantini squad. Monsalve was put into a domestique role last year and finished 30th-overall however, as a former winner he cannot be ruled out. Victor Nino Corridor finished the race in third overall in 2012 and will be making another assault at the general classification with the RTS Racing Team. One has to wonder if the 39-year-old Colombian had his best chance for overall success last year but he should be up there, or near about when the race hits the mountains.
Other possible contenders for a high place on the overall classification include Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step), Oscar Pujol (RTS), John Ebsen (Synergy Baku Cycling Project), Ghader Mizbani (Tabriz Petrochemical Team) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar). A number of these riders have the potential to finish up there but the limited racing in their legs may rule them out once the road kick up toward Genting.
The stage distances for 2013 are reflective of the early part of the year with only Stage 6 delivering a distance of more than 200km. The decisive stage however, will ultimately fall halfway through the tour atop the grueling Genting Highlands. This relatively short stage of only 110.3km should not be underestimated. The race will be won and lost on this stage. In fact history states - for the past three editions at least - that if you win atop Genting, the overall classification is yours. Will history repeat itself?