Nathan Earle (Huon-Genesys) returns to the Tour of Borneo this year searching for an overall victory after finishing as the runner-up and taking home two stages in 2012. And with defending champion Michael Torckler absent, the onus is now on the future Sky trainee to take another step up.
His Huon-Genesys team is not without its problems, however, and coming into the race undermanned may prove to be a deciding factor for the Australian team.
"We are a depleted team this time after Anthony Giacoppo and Aaron Donnelly had to pull out of the race before the start, so I will rely on our experienced rider Jai Crawford," said Earle.
Giacoppo remained in Australia to race the Tour of the Great South Coast but was forced to withdraw on the morning of day four due to tonsilitis. Donnelly returned to Australia to be with his family after the passing of his father.
With just a four man team coming up against strong competition, Earle is wary of talking up his chances.
"Yes, the route looks easier than last year but with just four riders, plus the presence of Iran's Tabriz Petrochemical, it will be difficult to chase the overall victory.
"But I will take it stage by stage and hope for a little luck, especially in making breakaway attempts. I hope I'll get a good result," added Earle.
The powerful Iranian team, Tabriz Petrochemical, come to Borneo off the back of a strong victory at Qinghai Lake. The team famous for powerful two-up attacks brings regular Asian veterans in Ghader Mizbani and Hossein Askari as serious threats for the overall.
Another man certain to feature in a number of breakaways is Malaysian local, Loh Sea Keong. The rider who has recently scored stage victories at the Tours of Thailand and Singkarak, as well as the overall victory at the Jelajah Malaysia, will be looking to extend his good run.
"After winning the Jelajah Malaysia, I don't feel much pressure, I am facing this race in a more relaxed manner. That Jelajah Malaysia victory made a big impact in my career, so I hope I'll get to test myself in the Tour of Borneo," said Kelantan-born Sea Keong.
"It will be difficult to repeat my performance of two months ago this time," continued Sea Keong. “But I just want to build my form and enter the Tour of Singkarak stronger and then continue my training in Chiangmai, Thailand."
The Tour of Borneo is raced on the Malaysian portion of the island of Borneo. Racing commences on Sunday with a short and flat 108.7 kilometre stage from Kota Kinabalu to Tuaran. The following two stages remain relatively flat with heat and dehydration being deciding factors. The queen stage takes place on Wednesday as riders cover 147.1 very rolling kilometres from Kota Kinabalu to Kundasang, finishing with a tough ten kilometre climb to the finish.
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