News feature, December 22, 2006.
With time ticking down quickly to the February 2 start of the Tour de Langkawi, details have been released of the route of the 2.HC ranked race. The twelfth edition of the prestigious Malaysian event will begin on the holiday island of Langkawi, with Stage 1 starting at Dataran Lang and concluding approximately two hours later close to Underwater World. The large 81 kilometre lap will include three intermediate sprints which will allow the speed specialists to gauge each other's form prior to the final charge for the line.
Day two takes the riders 166 kilometres from Kangar to Kulim. Once again there will be three intermediate sprints en route, this time at Padang Serai (15km), Alor Setar (49km) and Gurun (86km). The route then becomes a little more undulating from this point until the line, spicing things up.
As was the case this year, the race will finish in the high altitude Cameron Highlands on day three. Last time round, American rider Saul Raisin won here ahead of David George, the South African placing second but taking over yellow and going on to win the event.
This 133 kilometre stage from Kuala Kangsar to Brinchang begins with a flat opening 58km but, following intermediate sprints at Sungai Siput (21km), Chenor (34km) and Ipoh (52km), the riders move onto the tough 47 kilometre first category climb to the Highlands.
Once at the summit, the riders will descend 15 kilometres before the road pitches upwards once more; they will then scale an eight kilometre first category climb overlooking Brinchang, which tops out at 1,590 metres. From there just five kilometres remain until the steep uphill finish, guaranteeing some exciting racing as the riders battle for the stage and the race lead.
Things settle down more as regards the gradient on Stage 4, a 178 kilometre leg from Gua Mersang to Kota Bharu's Sultan Mahmud Stadium. The undulating route will include intermediate sprints at Felda Ciku (50km), Kuala Krai (105km) and Machang (133km).
The following day is a fast, flat speedfest from Kota Bharu to Kuala Terranganu. The hat-trick of early gallops continue with hot spot sprints at Pasir Puteh (34kms), Jerteh (52kms) and Mengabang Telipot (142kms), after which the finish will come some 25 kilometres later.
Days six and seven are also mainly flat. The first of these takes the riders 141kms from Kuala Terranganu to Cukai, via sprints at Merchang (27kms), Rantau Abang (51kms) and Paka (88kms). The final 500 metres features two sharp right hand turns, making good bike handling skills a must for those battling for the win.
Approximately 24 hours later the fast-twitch fibre merchants should also be to the fore when the peloton races the 170 kilometre distance from Kuantan to Karak. Crowds will also gather for the intermediate gallops at Maran (50kms), Paya Putai (111kms) and Kg. Desa Bakti (139kms).
The big showdown will take place on Stage 8, a short but extremely tough 84 kilometre trek from the Proton Centre of Excellence at Shah Alam to the 1,629 metre holiday resort of Genting Highlands. Sprints at Sungai Buloh (17kms), Batu Caves (36kms) and Gombak (50kms) will be followed by the final grovel to the line. This stage has traditionally been the big decider and given the severity of the climb, there is little doubt that this will be the case once more.
In 2006 the penultimate leg was a time trial but a race against the clock is absent in 2007. Instead, the day will feature a 173 kilometre road race between Putrajaya and Seremban, the long 173 kilometre route enlivened by sprints at Kajang (48 kms), Sungai Mutoh (110 kms) and Jeram Tol (134 kms). Notably, the final 67 kilometres features three categorised climbs which could enable a breakaway to slip clear; the second category ascent of Bukit Tangga (138 kms) is followed by the third cat Lenggeng (158 kms) and the smaller fourth category Bukit Mantin (164 kms).
The traditional finale will see the riders once again scrap it out for stage honours on an 80 kilometre street race in Kuala Lumpur. This stage was cancelled halfway through last year due to incredible monsoon-like conditions; a repeat of that is unlikely, with hot, humid conditions far more customary in the Malaysian capital.
Several ProTour teams are rumoured to be among the 120 international riders that are expected for the race. More details as to their identities should be announced soon.
Given the financial problems of the past two years, the success of the 2007 Tour de Langkawi will determine what is to be the long-term future of the event. Malaysian sports minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said told the promoting Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) at Wednesday's launch that it must set aside any internal politics and ensure that the race goes fully to plan.
The federation will be assisted by The Events Group, a UK based company headed by Alan Rushton who has a long history of race promotion and organisation. He has been involved with the Tour de Langkawi for several years and after missing out in 2006, is back for the coming edition.
Financially, the government have pledged their support for what will be Visit Malaysia year in 2007. Providing the race gets back on track, their backing is likely to continue and will thus secure the future of this important and culture-rich Asian event.
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