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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.