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Tour de Langkawi 2007 – Hot Tips
 
By Staff
Date: 2/1/2007
Tour de Langkawi 2007 – Hot Tips
 

Tour de Langkawi – Hot Tips
Mark Sharon takes a look at the competitors at the tour de Langkawi: the favorites, the dark horses and riders to watch.

by Mark Sharon

With the start of the 2007 Tour de Langkawi just hours away we will be looking at who is hot for this year’s race.

First lets’ look at some key statistics about the peloton, which comprises 23 teams of six riders, with the exception of AG2R who with the loss of Irishman Philip Deignan to injury has elected to start with five riders.

Of the 23 teams five are UCI pro-tour teams: Française Des Jeux; Credit Agricole; Ag2r Prevoyance; Unibet.com; and Bouygues Telecom. A further six are 2007 UCI Professional Continental Teams: CERAMICA PANARIA - NAVIGARE , TINKOFF CREDIT SYSTEMS , SKIL-SHIMANO , SERRAMENTI PVC DIQUIGIOVANNI-SELLE ITALIA and TEAM SLIPSTREAM from the US.

The remaining 12 teams comprise a mix of continental teams, regional pro teams as well as powerful national teams from South Africa, Australia, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Altogether, some 31 countries are presented. The largest contingent are Malaysians with 20 riders, followed closely by France with 16 and Japan with 11. American interests are represented by TDL debutante Slipstream.

For those stats-junkies amongst you the old-man of the peloton is Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni - Selle Italia’s 36 year old Wladimir Belli, whilst the youngest is babe-in-arms Mohammed Hariff Salleh, who at 19 was still in pre-school when Belli became a pro. Despite the age range the race is characterised by its overwhelming youth with over 60% under 23.

So, who is in with a chance? While some notably strong European squads are present, on past form this doesn’t necessarily mean one of them will produce the winner. Last year it was David George riding for the South African National Squad who edged out Credit Agricole’s Francesco Bellotti to win.

Bellotti will be eager to make amends and is part of a stronger Credit Agricole outfit comprising Hungarian national champion Laszlo Bodrogi and sprinter Julian Dean of New Zealand, winner of the 2005 First Union/Wachovia Classic. However, George is back with squad, which with the likes of Nicholas White, who is arguably stronger than in 2006. With back to back wins behind them South Africa will certainly be motivated for the hat-trick to reinforce their status as the best performing national team in the race's 12 year history.

This is far from a two-horse race – very far. It all depends on who is motivated enough this early in the season to pull out the stops. South Africa notwithstanding, Credit Agricole’s night at the ball could yet be spoiled by some energetic riding by some of its continental rivals.

First, let’s consider CA’s three ugly French sisters (is that tautology?). First up Bouygues Telecom. Captained by Thomas Voeckler, who came to fame when he held the yellow jersey in the Tour de France for a full ten days back in 2004, the squad contains Didier Rous, a former French National Champion and Laurent Lefevre, a past winner of the Dauphine Libéré. Look to them to produce a stage win.

Française des Jeux
Making their debut in the Tour de Langkawi is Française des Jeux, led by Sandy Casar. Voted the most popular French team by their countrymen they will be eager to make an impressive start. It could be Casar himself, who finished sixth in the Giro d'Italia last year. His birthday falls on the opening stage and his team will try to make the celebrations start on the podium.

AG2R
While AG2R is down a man, having decided not to replace Deignan the squad still packs a punch. Team captain Sylvain Calzati won a stage of the Tour de France in 2006, whilst teammate Jose Luis Arrieta did the same in the Vuelta.

Unibet.com
The only non-French Pro-Tour team present is Unibet.com. Officially Swedish, the team is based in and sponsored by an online betting company based in Malta. In fact, managed by former Tour de France rider Jacques Hanegraaf, Unibet.com is a reincarnation of the Mr.Bookmaker team, which in turn used to be Palmans-Collstrop, and has considerable experience of the Tour de Langkawi. Their main hope for GC and/or the mountains classification is Jose Rujano, a veteran of the TDL, and who finished third in the 2005 Giro d’Italia.

Gianni Savio's Diquigiovanni-Selle Italia
Of the 2007 UCI Professional Continental Teams Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Selle Italia, managed by the flamboyant Gianni Savio, is arguably the most dangerous team. Savio has a knack of producing future stars and team alumni include the aforementioned Jose Rujano, Fredy Gonzalez, Ivan Parra and Santiago Botero. Current squad member Josè Serpa, is the 2006 UCI America Tour Champion. But look out for a stage win from Sergey Kolesnikov, winner of the Tour of Hainan in China in November and who won the bronze medal in the points race at the recent UCI Track World Cup in Los Angeles.

Tinkoff Credit Systems Debut
It is also worth mentioning Tinkoff Credit Systems who are also making their debut in the TDL. While their most famous recruit Tyler Hamilton won’t be making an appearance this year they bring with them Elio Aggiano and Salvatore Commesso. Aggiano won a stage in last year’s TDL, while Commesso is a former Italian Road Race Champ, and between them offer a high probability of Tinkoff garnering a stage win.

While the eventual winner will almost certainly be drawn from the teams mentioned above it won’t be without a considerable fight being put up by the various national teams taking part.

Crashing the Party
SouthAustralia.com-AIS

One team striving to crash the party will be the SouthAustralia.com-AIS continental team, which is sponsored by Mapei (yep, the Mapei). It will be the first time that an Australian team has featured in Le Tour de Langkawi since 1998. In fact Australia produced the first winner Le Tour de Langkawi with Damian McDonald in 1996. AIS (the Australian Institute of Sport) cycling wing has an illustrious set of alumni including Robbie McEwen, Stuart O’Grady, Henk Vogels, Bradley McGee, Baden Cooke and Cadel Evans. Southaustralia.com-AIS is led by Gene Bates who raced in the 2006 TDL with Team LPR.

Slipstream
North America is represented by the sole presence of Slipstream, managed by Johnny Weltz. As with the Aussies, it is their first outing to the TDL and they will be hoping to take home stage-winning glory, possibly courtesy of USPRO Criterium Champion, Brad Huff, whose birthday falls on next Monday which Stage 4 - Gua Musang to Kota Bharu.

Wong Kam Po and Hong Kong Squad
With designs on a high team placing is Wong Kam Po’s Hong Kong Pro Cycling squad. Now 32, Wong Kam Po is Hong Kong's most successful rider, and reigning Asian Games road race champion. While claiming to be out of the running for a high place on GC he will no doubt be keen to add to his tally of stage wins, including one on the infamous Genting, as well as manoeuvring his team into a top five slot in the overall team competition.

As mentioned at the beginning of the article Malaysians form the biggest contingent, and have entered three teams. Leading the locals will be reigning Sea Games road race gold medallist Suhardi Hassan. To emphasise the overall youthfulness of the Malaysians Suhardi is the second oldest rider at just 25, and a veritable old man compared with the brace of 19-year olds riding for the MNCF-development squad.

Despite their weight in numbers the locals will have a tough fight to secure top spot in the Asian riders competition. They’ll be facing up to Wong Kam Po’s Hong Kong squad, but two powerful Japanese squads (Skil-Shimano and Nippo-Meltan Hompo) as well as the national teams from Iran and Korea.

Well that’s it – time to place your bets.
 

 
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Tour de Langkawi 2007 Preview - Part 1
Tour de Lankawi - Francesco Belotti
Tour de Langkawi 2007 - Teams & Riders

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