Selle Italia fire up the engine for Langkawi

José Serpa

José Serpa (Image credit: J.-F. Quénet)

Having won three stages in the Vuelta Tachira in Venezuela prior to their departure for the 12th edition of the Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) which begins this Friday, Selle Italia-Seramenti Diquigiovanni will be one of the teams to watch out for. Already the most successful team in the race, touted as Asias biggest cycling event, the Venezuelan-registered team managed by the charismatic Italian Gianni Savio will be firing on all cylinders in LTdL.

A change has been made to their initial squad and former LTdL winner Gabriele Missaglia, who finished third in last year's race, will be missing. He is replaced by another Italian climber, Wladimir Belli. Belli has finished sixth in the Giro d'Italia and ninth in the Tour de France in one year, in 2001, and will this year continue with Selle Italia as one of their team leaders.

Savio, however, said their main general classification rider will again be Jose Serpa, winner of the Genting Highlands stage last year. The Colombian will return with a target of taking the overall win. "He won two stages in LTdL last year and he also won the Pan American Championships. He also won a stage and the overall classification in last year's Vuelta a Venezuela, so we have big hopes for him," said Savio.

Completing Selle Italia's cast are 2005 Colombian national champion Walter Pedraza, another promising Colombian climber, Fabio Duarte and two sprinters - the experienced Italian Alberto Loddo and young Venezuelan Anthony Brea, who enters the LTdL having won the sprints classification in the Vuelta Tachira.

"But whether Brea makes the team for LTdL depends on whether he can get his passport in time. If he can't make it, we will replace him with Sergio Barbero," said Savio. "We'll be racing against five ProTour teams in LTdL, but I don't see a problem here. We've raced against 20 ProTour teams in the Giro d'Italia and still managed to produce some good results."

Selle Italia are the most successful team in LTdL history as far as overall wins are concerned, having won it in 2002 through Hernan Dario Munoz and in 2004, through Freddy Gonzalez.

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