At the end of last season, Anuar Manan's cycling career was at a crossroads. The 31-year-old's four seasons with Malaysian Continental team Terengganu had unexpectedly come to an end, leaving him in search of a ride for 2018.
In March of last year, the foundations were laid for a new Malaysian Continental team created by Faiz Syarifuddin and Farooq Meer. Manan, the only Malaysian stage winner of the Tour de Langkawi, would be the figurehead of the set-up. In October, Malaysian sports drink company Forca became the title sponsor and the progress was accelerated to ensure the team would be racing in 2018 under a Continental license.
"Last year I rode with TSG and we had planned with my CEO a new Continental team that we wanted to set up," Manan told Cyclingnews of the team's creation. "At the end of 2017, I found out I didn't have a contract with TSG so we planned to make a team for 2018. TSG made the decision at the last minute because they wanted me to become staff on the team but I feel like I am not ready to retire. We started a bit early with the Continental team because we had the budget and my CEO had contact with a sponsor and everything so we just started."
An important component in setting up the team was forging a new and unique identity separate from the other two Malaysian Continental teams, Sapura and TSG.
"In March we came up with the idea of forming the Continental team. We have the riders, technical expertise and also race experience with guys like Faiz Syarifuddin and from there we came up with a proposal and we started looking for sponsors," Meer told Cyclingnews in Alor Seltar.
"It was important to start fresh because we bring all the experience from previous teams and everything we had and we wanted to correct everything and whatever went wrong. We wanted to create something new. We wanted a team that was based on the sprint experience of Anuar and we wanted to go forward from there."
The dream required financial backing and would prove a challenge. However, once the deal with Forca was signed, it was all systems go to ensure the team's creation in time for the 2018 season and this week's Tour de Langkawi.
"For a start, getting a sponsor was a difficult thing. Once we got big sponsors like Forca, a Malaysian sports drink company, all the pieces came together. Later on, we got the Factor sponsorship with John Ebsen, Giro helmet and shoes and then 100% eyewear. Everything came together after the main sponsor came in," explained Meer.
"Before we got the confirmation of the Forca sponsorship we were not sure what was happening. To get the main sponsor was really difficult, we spoke to corporate people, we spoke to banks. It was promising at first but later on, it just went quiet and things like that. At that point, there was some uncertain moments and thoughts of postponing."
Despite pulling it all together, due to the late play the team was unable to secure all the riders it was chasing, as Manan explained.
"We had some riders we wanted to offer a contract but they already signed with another team because we set up at the last minute," he said. "It is ok because it is our first year and the second year we make another offer and try to find Continental riders for our team."
The team did secure Manan and, in Langkawi, Forca-Amskins is riding in support of his sprint ambitions. They're aiming for just the second home win in 23 editions of the race. A repeat of John Ebsen's KOM win from last year is also high on the agenda.
"We want to show the sponsors," Manan said. "For me, there is some pressure because I have a fanbase in Malaysia and I want to make something in Langkawi. I know my level and standard."
Meer added: "We don't have really high expectations but have the expectation that we want Anuar to do really well in the sprint stages and John Ebsen in the KOM. We'll also target the breakaways."
For Forca-Amskins, the Tour de Langkawi is the most prestigious race on their calendar and the race where they're chasing success. However, with backing confirmed for a minimum of three years, the plan is sustained success in the Asia Tour. Should the opportunities arise, Meer is also hoping the team can line out in European and Australian races.
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