MTN-Qhubeka have reacted coldly to news of the route change at the Tour de Langkawi, which sees the removal of the marquee summit finish Genting Highlands on the penultimate day in favour of a shorter and gentler climb.
The Genting climb has featured in every edition of the race bar one, always promising general classification drama in an otherwise sprint-heavy race. Safety concerns over the construction work at the resort prompted a move to Fraser’s Hill, less suited to the pure climbers.
The change, which was only announced on the eve of the race, has forced teams to reconsider their strategies. MTN-Qhubeka's climber, 21-year-old Merhawi Kudus, was second in the Genting stage and second overall last year, and the team had built its plans purely around that one climb.
“For us it’s a serious problem,” directeur sportif Michel Cornelisse told Cyclingnews. “Four riders of our team came especially for that stage – it was the one for us where we wanted to try and do something.”
“It’s a big disappointment when you come here – travelling across the world – and the race is almost flat and the mountain stage is out. Kudus was second last year, so we wanted to try to win here this year. We are here now so must make the best of it, but we were not really happy with it.”
As for a change in approach, Cornelisse rued the fact that the late announcement has meant there is little he can do.
“If they knew this one week earlier we would have changed the team completely. We have four climbers and one sprinter, and we must change our plan. We now put everything on the sprints, then look at the new climb they have promised and hope it’s hard enough for us to do something.”
Kudus, a promising young Eritrean and a pure climber, echoed his boss’ sentiments exactly.
“Definitely I’m not happy,” he said. “I’m disappointed because last year I won up this road. The team came just for Genting Highlands, so I’m not happy. Genting was the stage for the general classification - we came for one stage.
“I will still try my best, nothing changes in my approach but I don’t have any idea what the new climb is like.”
Team Sky have been similarly inconvenienced though not to such a great extent. They targeted Genting as the basis of a GC tilt from 21-year-old Colombian Sebastián Henao, who specialises on long climbs.
“We were a little bit disappointed with the change," said the team’s directeur sportif Gabriel Rasch. “We were looking forward to Genting Highlands with Sebastián because it would have been a really good climb for him.
“It’s not the same as Genting, but Fraser’s Hill is definitely going to be a hard stage, and we will just have to do the best we can. It means maybe we can race a little bit more aggressively [in the other stages].”
Tinkoff Saxo are another team having to re-think after they came to the race hoping Eduard Beltran could do well on the penultimate stage.
“Many riders came here for this climb, and it’s a shame we cannot do it,” said directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman. “I have heard the alternative is not as hard, so we will pay even more attention to the breakaways because that will maybe make the difference in the GC.”
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