In 2013, Loh Sea Keong made history by signing with Giant-Shimano and becoming the first South East Asian rider to compete in the WorldTour. Prior to joining the WorldTour ranks for the 2014 season, 31-year-old Keong rode with the Singapore team OCBC and Dutch-Chinese squad Marco Polo. Since his WorldTour season debut, he has ridden with the SEG Racing Team and is now into his second season with the Thailand Continental team.
Keong's pathway to the top remains unique in Malaysian cycling in 2018, but he urges his younger compatriots to look aboard for the opportunity to hone their craft.
"It is by far the biggest Malaysian field, but there is still a long way to go for Malaysian cycling with the lack of exposure," said Keong of the 16 riders at the Tour de Langkawi in 2018. "There is too much competition inside of Malaysia. The riders should get out and get exposure outside of Malaysia. It would be better for them if some guys so summer crit racing in Australia for example. The young kids should do racing like this.
"Up until now no one has done that much or gone too far, but the thing is, I am not staying at home all the time. I hope that sets an example for the younger generation to go further and hopefully one day they get to be riding on a big team," Keong told Cyclingnews.
In 2018, there are three-registered Malaysian Continental team’s providing pathways into the professional peloton. Progress that Keong applauds but adds that Malaysian riders need to be looking global and not rest domestically to further their careers.
"They should get out of the system. Get out and explore. Most of them are thinking of making national team, Terengganu cycling team… it is all government-funded teams. They should go out and try looking for opportunity outside. The route is tougher and the path is not paved but the result you can get at the end could be sweeter," he said.
"That is the beginning. You see Sapura, you see Forca, but we need bigger backing and greater funding and better people who understand the sport to help cycling grow in Malaysia for a new generation."
Recovery from injury
Along with Anuar Manan, Keong is one of the elder Malaysian statesmen in the 2018 Tour de Langkawi peloton. Both riders have long histories with the Tour de Langkawi, but late last year it looked likely that both riders would be missing the 23rd edition.
Manan was out of contract and frantically searching for backing of his new team, while Keong was in rehabilitation after suffering a PCL injury. Luck and fortune would be on both their sides with the duo taking their place on the start line. Manan, the only Malaysian stage winner in Langkawi, with his new Forca-Amskins team and Keong with the Thailand Continental team.
"I had two months on the crutches with no walking then one-month rehab walking again since then, I have been riding for four months," Keong told Cyclingnews of his recovery from his PCL injury.
"It was the worst injury of my career. I had a surgeon come to the room yesterday and he told me the knee now is great. It is a little big sagging but it is not bad. There is still a long way to go.
At the time of the accident, he thought his career was over and was facing the prospect of hanging up the wheels.
"I thought it would be my last day of riding when I crashed."
A concerted rehabilitation process and Keong was set for his return to the race he debuted at in 2006. Although unsure of his form and condition for his 12th Langkawi, Keong explained he wants to make his mark on the race.
"This is a nice race and there is so much left that I haven't achieved in this race. With the form I can't really do it but I want do it if I can," he said. "Maybe in the later part of the race after three of four days, I'll try for the breakaway."