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Tour de Langkawi 2007 Preview - Part 2
 
By Staff
Date: 1/13/2007
Tour de Langkawi 2007 Preview - Part 2
 

Tour de Langkawi Preview Part 2
The Stages:The route is far bolder geographically than in 2006, stretching from west to east coasts and back again. Totalling 1,374km (853 miles), the route is also some 10% longer than the 2006 edition.

By Mark Sharon

In keeping with its UCI 2.HC classification the route of the race packs a big punch. The route is far bolder geographically than in 2006, stretching from west to east coasts and back again. Totalling 1,374km (853 miles), the route is also some 10% longer than the 2006 edition.


2007 Tour of Langkawi  courtesy tdl2007@tdl.com.my
 

Stage 1: Pulau Langkawi
The first test is that opening stage on Pulau Langkawi. To vary the format not every edition has started on Langkawi, to the dismay of many journalists who, after a few days, find tearing themselves away from the island’s attractions – beaches, bars and tropical-isle landscape - takes a great deal of effort. When it has started on Langkawi, the opening stage has alternated between a road stage and a traditional prologue time-trial.

This year, the organisation has opted for a road-stage. At 82km (50 miles) long, the scope for the race to break up is limited, but at least teams will know whether their equipment is working properly after the being at the mercy of baggage handlers.

Starting from Dataran Lang (literally Eagle Square) next to the Kuah ferry port the course is an anti-clockwise loop of the Island to end at Underwater World Langkawi in Pantai Cenang.

The route heads north skirting the island’s hilly centre and runs alongside Beach of Black Sand (by which time some riders will wish they could get off for a dip) before heading south. After a quick inland circuit passing by Padang Mat Sirat (the Field of Burnt Rice), the race passes the white sand beaches of Pantai Cenang before reaching Underwater World.

Unfortunately, unless they’ve taken time out before the race, participants will have no chance to savour the attractions of Underwater World. After a quick shower and change the teams will be back at Dataran Lang to pick up the ferry to the mainland for the start of stage two.


The peloton in Langkawi    Photo c. Mark Sharon

Stage 2: First Mainland Stage
After an hour and quarter ferry ride to the mainland, and a good nights sleep, riders tackle the 166km (103 miles) stage two from Kangar to Kulim. This is Malaysia proper, and after the start on Kangar’s Jalan Kolam the route follows a southerly course past vast paddy fields. In the distance riders will view some of the striking limestone pillars which rise from the landscape.


Limestone Pillars in the distance... Photo c. Mark Sharon

The first half of the race is essentially flat with three sprints coming in this section. The second half of the days course sees riders crossing a much more undulating landscape with the “major“ climb of the day a Cat. 4 at the 116km mark, the last opportunity to gain points ahead of the finish in Kulim.

With the next day being a mountain stage this is the sprinters’ day, though the sprinters’ teams in the peloton will find themselves having to clamp down on breaks all day from those with low ambitions for the big hills, while the climbers will let them do all hard work knowing full well a bunch sprint is a near certainty.

Stage 3: Cameron Highlands
The Cameron Highlands are one of Malaysia’s true gems. A mix between lush tropical rainforest inhabited by tribes of aboriginal people, and tea plantations dotted with colonial buildings which would not be out of place in an English village. At the foot of the highlands you can be sweltering in shorts and sandals, while at the top damp cold mists will have you wishing for a souwester and gloves.

In fact the British connection with the region reaches back to William Cameron a British surveyor who “discovered” it in 1885. Shortly thereafter the Highlands became a place for wealthy English to come to escape the oppressive heat of the plains, and it is no coincidence that here Malaysia’s tea industry blossomed as a rival to India.


Cameron Highlands tea plantation. Photo c. Mark Sharon

The finish of Stage 3 at Brinchang is a scant 133 km (85 miles) from the start in Kuala Kangsar, but the devil lies not in the distance but in the final climb. In fact make that the climb. The stage is split into halves which could not be more distinct. The first leg of nearly 60km comprises three sprints, of interest only to those teams with designs on the sprint jersey. For those with climbers it is a delivery leg, and in fact unless someone up the road in a break is a climber, the emphasis will be on guarding reserves. There is plenty of time to reel any escapees.

The feedstop at 58km (36miles) marks the gateway to the Cameron Highlands. Ahead lies 47km of ascent, virtually without a break, up the Cat.1 climb to Pahang at 1409m. The opening section of the climb takes the peloton through dense rain-forest, punctuated by clearing filled with villages, some which perch precariously over sheer drops with the house supported by the thinnest of stilts. The inhabitants are aborigines who have inhabited these hills for hundreds of years with hardly a concession to the modern world. Talking of technology this is not the place to have a dodgy race radio as the road twists and turns through a forest so dense that to walk 50 metres off it is to be lost.

Apart from the terrain, the striking aspect of this leg is the change in temperature with altitude. All things are relative, but when you start the climb in 35 degree heat, and finish it at 10 degrees the contrast is stark, and to make things even more interesting if it is raining the road becomes slick with the red mud washed off the hillsides.

There is a short descent with about 25 km to go, before another Cat.1 climb to the Equatorial Hotel. From there it is downhill into Brinchang, a particularly technical descent with plenty of time for a last minute spill if the conditions are foul.

Stages 4 to 6: Traveling the East Coast
The next three days see the race head sharply north for 178.2km (111 miles) to the coastal city of Kota Bahru (stage 4) before spending two stages making its way south down the north-east coast. If conditions mirror those of past events, the first of these coastal legs, stage 5 to Kuala Terengganu, sees the riders battling headwinds for much of the day, especially near the coast. The coast itself is beautiful with white sand beaches facing the South China Sea, punctuated by inlets crowded with brightly coloured fishing craft.


Colorful fishing boats.          Photo c. Mark Sharon

Kuala Terengganu is a major producer of batik fabrics. The results are made into scarves, skirts, trousers and shirts. Only the most world weary rider or journalist, or one without a wife or girlfriend back home, could avoid buying even one item if not of batik perhaps of songket, a hand-woven gold and silver brocade much loved by royalty.

Stage 6 provides more of the same as the race heads further south along the coast to Cukai. This is probably a good time to talk about podium girls.

The highlight of any winner’s day is receiving not the stage winner’s medal but a kiss from the podium girls, except perhaps when the podium girl is a bloke carrying a large keris, a traditional ceremonial dagger.

The charm of the Tour de Langkawi lies in the breadth of culture encountered on route. It can vary strongly from state to state (the race passes through some eight of the thirteen states) together with the strictness with which religious laws are applied. The East Coast states are strongly Muslim in culture which means not just an absence of podium girls, but also a scarcity of post-race beer, the latter a major shock to the system.


Wincor/Nixdorf rider shares some of his drink with an elephant. 
Photo c. Mark Sharon

Stage 7: Heading back West
At Kuantan, the race says goodbye to the South China Sea and heads due west towards Kuala Lumpur with Stage 7 presenting a 170.2km (106 miles) sprinters dream to Karak. The only thing likely to slow down the peloton, apart from one of the regions wild elephants, are two Cat.4 blips in the centre section measuring a scarcely noticeable 92m and 70m respectively. The thing lurking at the back of everyone’s mind will be the next day’s nightmare stage 8 to the Genting Highlands.

Stage 8: Finish in the Clouds
The Genting Highlands
There can be no greater contrast between the genteel old-colonial atmosphere of the Cameron highlands, and the bold brash futuristic feel of the Genting Highlands. How to describe it? Take one mountain, slice the top off, and stick a Chinese version of Disneyland on the top of it. On a clear day you can see the brightly coloured complex of the Genting Highlands Resort from Kuala Lumpur, and vice versa. KL looks like toy town, the twin towers of the Petronas complex resembling like two pieces of baby sweetcorn sticking out of the heat haze.

At 1629m high (more than a vertical mile), the Genting Highlands are also higher, and colder than the Cameron Highlands. The resort is frequently shrouded in mist, which swirls around the various enormous hotel blocks. How enormous? Genting’s First World Hotel with its 6118 rooms is now the world’s largest hotel.

The stage itself is only 83.4km (52 miles) long, but from the stage start at the Proton Factory in Shah Alam lying at 4.7m above sea level the entire stage comprises one big climb and nothing else. The average grade is not particularly steep at 2 percent (there are three sprints en route) but that is a deceptive characteristic. Just after the last sprint at the 50km mark the road kicks up viciously, rearing up to 14% gradient in places.


Genting Highlands          Photo c. Mark Sharon

If the peloton hasn’t already been so, from this point on it is destined to be decimated over and over again. Positions on GC carefully guarded for the last week will be wrecked contemptuously, dreams of a podium place trampled. In the past leaders have gone from first to last and been eliminated entirely in the space of 20 km.

With 10 km to go the resort buildings will be visible in the clouds. To accompany the creaking and groaning of bicycles and the rumble of motorcycle outriders will be the squeal of brakes on the cars of people descending. The air will be filled with the stink of super-heated brake pads.

Those following in cars will be confronted by another phenomenon. The majority of cars in Malaysia are built to cope with heat. Consequently they lack some of the things those living further north take for granted – like windscreen demisters. You don’t notice such things, until you are near the summit of Genting with the temperature dipping to 5 or 6 degrees centigrade. It’s just another thing which makes life interesting on the race.

 

Stage 9: Almost There - Not
Stage 9, the penultimate stage, takes the riders 173km (108 miles) between Putrajaya and Seramban. Theoretically, the race will have been decided by the previous day’s bloodletting on Genting, but the second half of the stage might have something to say about it.

A series of hills, starting just after the feed zone at 80km (50 miles) provide the perfect launch pad for breaks of all types. If nothing else, those with podium places at stake will be spending the whole day fending off attacks or chasing them down, made all the more arduous by the previous day’s efforts to get in that position in the first place.

Stage 10: Victory, but for Whom?
For those in the peloton who have never seen Kuala Lumpur close up the 12 laps comprising the 80km (50 miles) of Stage 10 are a lesson in modern day architecture. The traditional shot of the peloton is taken when the riders pass beneath the twin towers of the Petronas centre, so tall that to include both the towers and the peloton in the same shot requires a very wide wide-angle lens.


Last day under the Petrona Towers Photo c. Mark Sharon

For all the spectacular, if somewhat phallic, nature of the setting this stage is more than a parade for some riders. The desperation to win can push riders to compete against even their own team-mate for the win, as happened when Ruben Bongiorno not only beat his Ceramica Panaria teammate Graeme Brown in a shoulder-to-shoulder sprint, but almost crashed him on the line. Bongiorno claimed he was trying to avoid photographers.

So there you have it – a perfect ten days in paradise for someone, an “I’m a bike rider - get me out of here” for those at the back. They only thing to find out now is who they end up being and how they got there.


Monkey Crossing Ahead! Photo c. Mark Sharon

 
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Tour de Langkawi 2007 Preview - Part 1
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