Having successfully won its bid for the South East Asian Games in August, Malaysia's sporting events have felt the financial impact, and the Tour de Langkawi is no exception. While other events have been postponed or cancelled in 2017, the stature and popularity of "Asia’s ultimate challenge" has ensured its continuation. However, cost cutting has resulted in the race skipping Langkawi Island in all capacities for the ninth time in its 22-year existence.
While the budget cuts have affected the start list in 2017, the race organisations have created and tweaked a parcours that throws up plenty of chances for the fastmen, with the familiar climb up Cameron Highlands set to decide the overall victor.
Having criss-crossed Malaysia in recent years, the race was solely a west coast affair last year and it's a theme that returns in 2017. While the race hugs the west coast, the peloton will start in the eastern city of Kuala Berang before heading north and west to the coast, then turning southwards for the long sprint towards Putrajaya.
Kuala Terengganu has the honour of hosting the stage 1 finish in 2017 on a day that is expected to suit the sprinters. The stage 2 jaunt from Jerteh in the east to Gerik in the west is the longest of the race at 208.1km, with the scenic day in the saddle again suited to the sprinters.
The shortest stage of the race follows with the relatively brief 118km from Serdang to Pantai Remis, marking the race's journey southward and calm before the Cameron Highlands storm. The 174.4km stage 4 from Seri Manjung to Cameron Highlands is the queen stage of the race and sure to have the biggest say in deciding the overall victor.
After the challenging climbing day, Stage 5 sees the return of the fast sprint finish, with the peloton starting in Meru Raya and concluding in Kuala Kubu Bharu 151.5km later. However, the stage is not a straightforward affair, with plenty of twisting and winding roads to test the tired legs of the riders. Stage 6 should be a day for a sprinter to consolidate his supremacy in the race or perhaps herald the arrival of a new fast finisher after the 176.3km journey from Senawang to Muar.
The penultimate stage is the second of the race over 200km in length and features the southernmost finish in 2017. Rolling out from Melaka, by the time the peloton finishes in Rembau, there could be a change in the overall standings, with the three climbs in Gemencheh, Bukit Rokan and Bukit Miku providing the stage for possible late drama.
Putrajaya will host the finale of 2017, with the peloton to start in Setiawangsa before the finishing circuits in the administrative capital for one final sprint opportunity.
Dimension Data are the sole WorldTour team on the start list in 2017 and will be favourites to claim a third successive overall victory. However, for the second year running, the South African team will start the race without the defending champion.
Their line up includes several riders capable of riding for the general classification, such as their three neo-pros, with a balanced squad likely to compete on the flat and on the climbs.
A bevy of Pro Continental teams will also assemble in Malaysia to challenge the WorldTour team, with the Italian quartet of Bardiani-CSF, Wilier Trestina, Androni-Giocattoli and Nippo-Vini Fantini joining the American UnitedHealthcare and Colombian Manzana Postobon teams.
Although teams are sending squads for the dual purpose of sprint and general classification success, it's little surprise to see more weight given to the bunch finishes, which make up the lion's share of the Langkawi finales.
UnitedHealthcare's Travis McCabe is a man in form and already attuned to his new team and sprint train. However, the American won't have it all his way and will find the likes of Jakub Maerczko (Wiler Trestina), Andrea Palini (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) and Nicolas Marini (Nippo-Vini Fantini) a challenge in the sprints.
Stage record holder Andrea Guardini is a notable absentee in 2017 as his UAE Abu Dhabi team will be engaged on home soil at the Abu Dhabi Tour this coming week.
Continental riders Yevgeniy Gidich (Vino-Astana Motors), Scott Sunderland (IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness) and Mohd Hariff Saleh (Terengganu Cycling Team) should also feature at the pointy end.
In the battle for overall, Androni's Colombian duo Egan Bernal and Ivan Sosa could well continue the success of their country at the race. UnitedHealthcare's Daniel Jaramillo was second overall last year and is another Colombian sure to express himself on Cameron Highlands. Youthful Manzana Postobon duo Sergio Andres Higuita and Bernardo Suaza are two more Colombians to throw into the mix.
Cyclingnews will have daily reports, news, results and photos from the 22nd edition of le Tour de Langkawi.
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