Tour de Langkawi Preview - Part 1
The Tour de Langkawi is not like any other race. The back-drop alone sets it
apart. From white sand beaches to tropical rain forests, from houses on stilts
to gleaming skyscrapers, crowded Chinese markets, to pleasure palaces on
mountain tops, no two days in the saddle look the same. For riders it is like
racing through the gigantic set of a television travel programme.
By Mark Sharon
the last eleven years the Tour of Lankgawi has established its self as the
toughest international first test of the season. Taking place in the beautiful
country of Malaysia it not only features a tough course but is often the
showcase for neo pros to make their first mark and victory and launch the
promise of their future. Alessandro Petacchi collected one of his first pro
victories in stage 6 of the 1998 tour in this popular international calendar
School boys await the popular home town race... Photo c. Mark
1996 Damian McDonald Giant-AIS
1997 Luca Scinto MG-Technogym
1998 Gabrielle Missaglia Mapei-Bricobi
1999 Paolo Lanfranchi Mapei-Quickstep
2000 Chris Horner Mercury Cycling Team
2001 Paolo Lanfranchi Mapei-Quickstep
2002 Hernan Dario Munoz Colombia Selle-Italia
2003 Tom Danielson Saturn Cycling Team
2004 Freddy Gonzalez Colombia Selle-Italia
2005 Ryan Cox Barloworld
2006 David George South Africa
Back from the Brink?
Le Tour de Langkawi is coming home – literally. When stage 1 of the 12th edition
of the Tour de Langkawi gets underway on Saturday 2nd February 2007 it will be
on its namesake the island of Pulau Langkawi.
Starting the race in Langkawi this year is symbolic for a particular reason
which has its basis in events over the last couple of years.
After years growing to a race of international stature, a couple of years ago
the Tour de Langkawi suddenly hit a hole in the road. A combination of
challenging economic conditions and the costs of a change of ownership had
thrown the race finances awry. The problems were reflected in the 2006 edition,
a conservative affair that was constrained to the west coast states.
Gord Fraser welcomed to Malaysia, not your typical podium girl giving a kiss to
the sprint point leader. Photo c. Mark Sharon
The reasons are too many and too complex to list here but the symptoms of
whatever was going wrong started becoming more public, with claims by teams that
they had not received their prize money. Debt laden and a shadow of its old self
the Tour was looking doom in the face.
Put it another way, if Le Tour de Langkawi had been a well tended flock
prized by all, it was rapidly turning into one which was wandering aimlessly
over the hillside in the face of a gathering storm. Fortunately someone decided
to step in before it was too late, gather the flock, and restore order.
Young fans cheer the racers as they pass. Photo c.
Bike races are only as good as the support they get. Fortunately the Tour de
Langkawi has received the strongest support from the most important, yet
surprising, quarter - the Malaysian Government. Why surprising you ask? The
answer is very much tied up with the event’s creator former Prime Minister of
Malaysia Mahathir bin Mohamad. The race was created under the patronage of Tun
Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad. The former Prime Minister chose Langkawi, one of his
favourite places (he has a holiday home here), as the race start point for the
first edition in 1996, and the race was given its name.
With the Prime Minister’s retirement in 2003 there was an understandable
concern that the race would eventually retire with him, starved of patronage.
The last couple of years might have convinced some this was true.
Race patron Prime Minister Dato' Seri Badawi. Photo c. Mark
However, to solve the financial crisis the Malaysian Government has stepped
in with a rescue package of some several million ringgit giving an unequivocal
signal that it wants the race to endure. A clearer signal still is the fact that
the current Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, is now
the race patron.
On the organisational front, the biggest news of the 2007 edition has been
the reinstatement of the Alan Rushton’s Events Group which had been responsible
for the technical organisation of the race from 1998 to 2005, and was a casualty
of the financial issues.
Alan Rushton and rider
Photo c. Mark Sharon
The move suggests that the idea is to effectively restore the race to its
pre-2005 state and move on in a way which will encourage a collective amnesia
about the last couple of years. Starting the race in Langkawi is just one way of
saying “we are back in business”.
Kuala Lampur on wet streets the final day. Photo c. Mark
A race like no other:
So what of this year’s race? For all the right reasons the Tour de Langkawi is
not like any other race. The back-drop alone sets it apart. From white sand
beaches to tropical rain forests, from houses on stilts to gleaming skyscrapers,
crowded Chinese markets, to pleasure palaces on mountain tops, no two days in
the saddle look the same. For riders it is like racing through the gigantic set
of a television travel programme.
There is also the reception the race receives from spectators. In a country
where the most popular form of two wheels is arguably a Honda “kapchai”
(Malaysian slang for moped) the peloton is received like members of Take That
(or their South-East Asian equivalent). Crowds throng the roadside, augmented by
the populations of schools let out of class for the passing of the race,
neatness in uniform of the latter in stark contrast to their wild screaming as
the race rockets past.
Barloworld rider on the ubiquitous kapchai
And where else in the world is a major bike race greeted with elephants and
boa constrictors, or escorted out of town by a hundred and one rickshaws?
Notwithstanding all this beautiful scenery and public adulation, before the
riders can enjoy a beer in the bars and clubs of Kuala Lumpur there is still a
little matter of surviving 10 days in tropical heat and humidity, across terrain
which can be just as punishing as any found in Europe.
Young fans cheer on the riders as they pass in a blur.