In 2011, Andrea Guardini won the first of his 22 career Tour de Langkawi stage wins in Pekan Kuah. He repeated the victory the following day in Butterworth and hasn't stopped winning since, becoming the outright most successful stage winner in the 22-year history of the race.
In 2018, Guardini returns to Malaysia with his new Bardiani-CSF team after a year of absence. In the pre-race press conference, it was no surprise the 28-year-old known as “Mr Langkawi” was front and centre, particularly with no former GC winners present on the 2018 field.
Presented to the assembled press alongside Malaysian Anuar Manan, South African Nich Dlamini and Polish omnium world champion Szymon Sajnok, Guardini held court and presented his objectives for the eight-stage race.
"The goal is to try to and win some stages here. Try to come back to the victories because it is two years that I don't win and I have a good feeling for my team," a confident Guardini said in Langkawi.
Conspicuous by his absence last year, Guardini was asked to explain why he missed the 2017 edition of the race, replying, "You need to call Saronni for this,” referring to Beppe Saronni, the general manager of his former UAE Team Emirates team, where Guardini spent 2017.
Guardini had signed a two-year contract with the WorldTour outfit but opted out of the second year to sign with Bardiani-CSF, the sprinter explaining the opportunity to return to the Giro d'Italia with Bardiani was a major drawcard along with a return to Langkawi.
"I joined Bardiani because it is one of the biggest Italian teams as a professional," said Guardini. "We have the wild card for the Giro d'Italia and I am really happy for this. Since 2012, I haven’t raced the Giro and for me, it is a really big motivation for this year. I know for Bardiani, Malaysia is an important race because they race here for many years. It is also a big race and I’ll try to bring my team as much success as I can."
In 2012, Guardini won six stages of Langkawi before making his one Giro appearance to date, winning stage 18 ahead of Mark Cavendish. In 2018, Guardini is again hoping to lay the foundation of Grand Tour success with a bag of wins in Malaysia. The change of teams to Bardiani refreshing both his mind and spirit as he explained.
"Last year I was only paid for the victories and only one part of a big, big team," he reflected. "It was so different. If you don't win in a big team, you lose your opportunity to have chances to win and then you cannot race the biggest races. With Bardiani, the feeling is different. They want to bring me with a good feeling for the Giro d'Italia.
“As a rider, you need a lot of motivation for racing, for improving and if you don't feel good with a team you need to change. It was my decision last year. I had a two-year contract but I changed teams anyway. With Bardiani I am really focused on training, to have some good victories. Victories not just to win but maybe big, big victories like another stage of the Giro."
Guardinai has yet to race an edition of the Tour de Langkawi without winning a stage, and the question pre-race for the Italian is not if he would won a stage, but how many. Starting stage 1 Monday from Kangar to Kulim with the expected bunch sprint finish.