As the sun set on the western beaches of Kuala Terengganu, all 19 teams of the 2017 Le Tour de Langkawi assembled at the Primula Beach Hotel for the presentation on the eve of the race. The now iconic winner's Challenge Trophy was shown off to the teams, officials and dignities before riders were called on stage.
The only WorldTour team in the race, Dimension Data, were the first squad called on the stage but it was the last team of the presentation, the Malaysian national team, who received the loudest and warmest welcome.
With no former winners lining out in 2017, a new rider will add his name to the honour roll.
All-time stage win record holder, Andrea "Mr Langkawi" Guardini, is also absent. Italian sprinter Jacob Mareczko is regarded as the heir apparent to Guardini in an open field of fast men. The Wilier Trestina rider won a stage of the race last year and is aiming to match and possibly better his result in 2017.
"This year I will try to repeat my win, so my team is very strong for the sprint. There is [Rafael] Andriato, [Filippo] Pozzato that can help me in the final kilometre so I think we can do a good job," he said, adding the riders he sees as rivals. "There are many sprinters from Italy… [Nicolas] Marini from Nippo [Vini] Fantini, [Marco] Benfatto and [Andrea] Palini from Androni. Another sprinter is [Scott] Sunderland; there is a lot of sprinters."
Mareczko's teammate Pozzato is making his debut at the race in his final season as a professional. The 35-year-old explained that while he will be concerned with helping Mareczko, he is also eyeing his first win since 2013.
"I think I am in good condition because I did Argentina and Oman and now I am here with the team to try and win a stage with Jakub," said Pozzato. He is also at the race to hone his condition ahead of Milan-San Remo. "I want to try and help Jakub in the finale with Adriato, Cecchin and for sure we have a good team for the sprint. I want to try on one stage for the victory, but it is not simple. Every guy is strong in the final, and for me it is the first race here. I will try."
The eight-stage race kicks off Tuesday in Kuala Berang with the 124.8km stage finishing in Kuala Terengganu. The race concludes Sunday, March 1 with a 121km stage from Setiawanga into Putrajaya where a new winner will be crowned.
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