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Tour de Langkawi 2007 Preview - Part 1
 
By Staff
Date: 1/13/2007
Tour de Langkawi 2007 Preview - Part 1
 

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

In 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 event.

 


School boys await the popular home town race... Photo c. Mark Sharon

Previous Winners
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. Mark Sharon

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 Sharon

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 Sharon

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.

 
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