Langkawi looms as Asia's number one

Despite its publicised financial problems in recent years, the Tour de Langkawi remains south east Asia's leading stage race, and the 2010 event promises open racing thanks to the evenly-matched field of riders competing.

On paper one of the most obvious candidates for stage and possibly overall honours is Manuel Cardoso, the Spaniard having kick started his season in January's Tour Down Under when he took a stage win against world champion Cadel Evans and Vuelta a España winner Alejandro Valverde.

Footon-Servetto takes up the mantle held by Gianni Savio's Diquigiovanni-Androni squad as the highest-profile European team competing in the race. It boasts Austrian national road race and time trial champions Marcus Eibegger and Matthias Brändle in a lineup that has the firepower to take control of the seven stages and the general classification.

It's also a chance for young Australian Johnnie Walker to show his wares on a notable European squad, riding against his former team, the Australian Institute of Sport outfit, now known as Jayco-Skins.

Speaking of Australians, there are two Antipodean outfits in attendance at this year's Tour de Langkawi, with the aforementioned Jayco-Skins Under 23 squad joined by Continental crew Drapac-Porsche. The latter boasts 2009 Australian national road race champion Peter McDonald, who has enjoyed success racing in Asia during the past three seasons.

And of course ISD-Neri's enigmatic Venezuelan Jose Rujano will enter this year's edition as one of the favourites for overall honours thanks to his climbing prowess and ability to create sizeable gaps as soon as the terrain allows him the space to fly.

He won't be handed the title however, sure to be pushed all the way by Tabriz Petrochemical's talented Iranian pairing of Ghader Mizbani and Hossein Askari, who have proven themselves in the race during previous editions; they'll return in 2010 looking to better their top 10 finishes.

There's another touch of the ProTour in this year's race, with former Francaise des Jeux rider Ian McLeod joining his South African national teammates for a crack at the race his countryman, the late Ryan Cox, won in 2005.

Former Gerolsteiner professional Rene Haselbacher features in Vorarlberg-Corratec's lineup, the Austrian keen to mix it up in the sprints where he has traditionally excelled. He'll have his work cut out for him this year, with an open field also motivated to pick up a stage win in Asia's most prestigious race outside the Tour Down Under.

While the race provides most opportunities for sprinters and breakaway riders, the obvious highlight of the course is again the stage to Genting Highlands; the 1,679m summit finish should confirm the general classification leader or help those intent on usurping the ascendancy from whoever holds the leader's jersey heading into the penultimate day.

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