The 23rd edition of the Tour de Langkawi will follow a long-held tradition by giving the fast men ample opportunity to take home an early-season victory. After South Africa's Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data) won last year's race, a sprinter could well take home the overall win again as ongoing road works have forced the organizers to remove the iconic climb of Genting Highlands from their initial plans for the fourth consecutive year.
Stage 5 to Cameron Highlands is set to determine most of the overall classification, while several bunch sprints are expected with the return of the race's superstar Andrea Guardini, now with Bardiani-CSF. The Italian ace holds a record of 22 stage victories at the Tour de Langkawi between 2011 and 2016.
For the first time, the race is organised by one of its former participants, like the Tour de France in the time of Jean-Marie Leblanc (1989-2006). On Friday, former Olympian Murugayan Kumaresan, known as simply as 'M', unveiled the 23rd edition of the Malaysian UCI 2.HC event along with Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who is a keen cyclist himself.
"It feels special to organize the race so many years after I took part in it," Kumaresan told Cyclingnews in Putrajaya, the home of the Malaysian government.
Kumaresan was one of the pioneers of the Malaysian national team as he led the squad in 1996, 1997 and 1998, during the first three years of the event created by the then-Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad, who is bidding for a comeback at the helm of the country in the upcoming general elections at the age of 92. Named Sportsman of the Year in Malaysia in 1987, Kumaresan was the first cyclist to represent his nation at the Olympic Games, in Seoul (1988) and Barcelona (1992), after which he was inducted into the SportExcel Hall of Fame.
Following the 1997 Tour de Langkawi, Kumaresan joined the Schauff-Öschelbronn team in Germany and brought his brother Rajen in as a mechanic for the organisation that later became Gerolsteiner. After the German Pro Tour squad folded in 2008, Rajen Murugayan went to work for Team Sky as head mechanic and he remains there.
There are 22 teams set to take part in the competition, which is set to run from March 16-25. Half of them come with a Grand Tour pedigree, including WorldTour team Astana. The other half is made up of Continental teams from the Asia Pacific region.
"This race has a long history of giving exposure to Asian cyclists and it'll be the case again this year," said Kumaresan, who was assistant sports director for the Asian all-stars team that saw Hong Kong's Wang Kam Po become the first ever Asian to win a stage at the Cameron Highlands in 2000.
2018 Tour de Langkawi
Stage 1: Friday, March 16 - Kangar-Kuala Ketil, 117km
Stage 2: Saturday, March 17 - Gerik-Kota Bahru, 207km
Stage 3: Sunday, March 18 - Kota Bahru-Kuala Terengganu, 166km
Stage 4: Monday, March 19 - Dungun-Pekan, 177.6km
Stage 5: Tuesday, March 20 -Raub-Cameron Highlands, 140.4km
Stage 6: Wednesday, March 21 - Batu Gajah-Taiping, 112km
Stage 7: Thursday, March 22 - Tapah-Kapar, 157.1km
Stage 8: Friday, March 23 - Putrajaya-Rembau, 106.8km
Stage 9: Saturday, March 24 - Port Dickson-Batu Pahat, 218.9km
Stage 10: Sunday, March 25 - Senawang-Kuala Lumpur, 134.4km
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