After missing last year's Tour de Langkawi, Australian rider Mark O'Brien has returned to Malaysia for the 15th edition of the event, albeit in quite a different setting to his previous visit in 2008.
The 22-year-old from Horsham, Victoria, is riding his second edition of the race as part of Malaysian squad LeTua alongside Spaniards Edgar Nohales, Alexis Rodriguez and Raul Castano, plus local lads Yong Li Ng and Mohammad Hafiz Rozli.
Late last year he found himself without a team for the 2010 season after unforeseen circumstances denied him a proposed ride in Italy, as he explained at the start of this year's Tour de Langkawi in Kota Bharu, Malaysia.
"Shayne [Bannan] organised a ride with a team in Italy but around December last year it folded. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to get the ride with LeTua, which came about earlier this year," said O'Brien. "I'd been with Drapac-Porsche for the last three years but when I found out about the collapse of the team in Italy, Drapac's roster was already full.
"Before the [Australian] elite nationals Shayne Bannan told me about the possibility of doing the Tour de Langkawi. Jef [French journalist Jean-François Quenet] asked me whether I wanted a team to ride the race with and there was the chance of doing it with LeTua. I said I have to take the opportunities as they come and here I am," he continued.
It's a race with which O'Brien is familiar and he's no stranger to being in the limelight in Malaysia. "I did the race two years ago when Mitch Docker was close to the yellow jersey, so we rode for him and I didn't really get any opportunities to have a go," he explained.
While he will look for his opportunities this week, Europe remains the desired final destination for O'Brien's cycling career, where he'll be able to demonstrate the skills he has cultured on the road and the track. "Ideally I want to be riding in Italy - the racing suits me there - but if that doesn't come to fruition then I can stay with LeTua and do some races in the region because I need the experience where it's possible," he explained.
And if that means moving to an amateur squad for the European season? "There aren't too many issues with transferring from a Continental team to an amateur one, so I should be able to get a mid-year release if I want to do some racing with an amateur squad somewhere in Europe," O'Brien added.
As for his goals this week in Malaysia, LeTua's Aussie hopes he could be the Joker in the pack. "I'll just have to find the right break," he said. "I'm no Rujano but I'll try and limit my losses on the Genting climb as I haven't raced since nationals.
"The collapse of the Italian team put me in a bad situation - I didn't know whether I should have been training or how hard, but thanks to my family, friends and my girlfriend, I continued to have the support I needed throughout that testing time and keep riding."
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