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Le Tour de Langkawi 2008
 
By Staff
Date: 1/18/2008
Le Tour de Langkawi 2008
 

Le Tour de Langkawi 2008
Local ace Loh Sea Keong of the Trek/Marco Polo team is determined to continue his combative performance of 2007.  Trek/Marco Polo provisional start list

For 10 days in last year’s Le Tour de Langkawi, local ace Loh Sea Keong captured the hearts of the Malaysian fans with his combative performances. As a result, thousands of fans braved the scorching heat to cheer the young rider on all the way to the end of the Tour.

And now he’s back for more. Sea Keong is returning for the 13th edition of Asia's biggest cycling event from Feb 9-17 with renewed vigour and ambition. A year wiser and still only 22-years-old, the rider from Kuala Krai, Kelantan is determined to put on a display that will completely win over the local fans.

His team, previously known as Discovery Channel-Marco Polo, completed their last race of 2007 in the Tour of South China Sea. This year, the team has been re-named Trek-Marco Polo, with the famed American bicycle manufacturers as their main sponsors.

Realizing the opportunity to produce results in a high level race such as LTdL may be limited for Asian riders, Sea Keong said it was important to show fighting spirit and not give in to fate.

"One thing I realized during last year's LTdL was that people, particularly local cycling fans are not really that ignorant. After so many years of high level racing, people here now know and appreciate how hard we have to work. That was why, despite not winning any stages, people appreciated the effort I put into trying to achieve something," said Sea Keong.

His best result came in Stage Seven of the race last year, when he formed part of a nine-man breakaway that succeeded and Sea Keong, totally exhausted from the effort, rolled home in seventh to emerge the first Malaysian to succeed in a breakaway in LTdL's 12 year history. But still he lived to attack again the next day.


Stage 7 Breakaway with Fukushima at the front of the pack. Fukushima went on to win the stage.  Photo c. Bruno Bade

It was an attacking show that began on the second stage of last year's race, mainly due to a Discovery Channel-Marco Polo team which was depleted by three early retirements. Without a strong team to back or be backed by, Sea Keong launched his memorable daily attack routine which won him many admirers, some even calling him the Malaysian version of Japanese breakaway demon Koji Fukushima.

"I was driven last year. I had nothing to lose. But you must remember that I'm still a young rider with the team. My main goal is to learn and gain experience. It might not have to be an attacking show in every race," said Sea Keong. Sweetest of all last year was his solo attack entering his home town of Kuala Krai on Stage Four of LTdL, where a large part of the population lined the roads to provide a welcome fit for a hero.

"I will do that again this year. I know the race will be having some really big names this year, so it will be even tougher. But if we keep on trying, a breaking away each day, you never know what will happen. If I sit in the bunch, waiting, I know what will happen. Nothing," said Sea Keong.

"Most important is to get to ride. I'm confident that the team has enough trust in me to line me up in a big race like LTdL, despite some good new signings in the team. So, first of all, it will be team orders. If the boss gives me a ticket to attack, you can bet that I'll do it, over and over again," he added.

Stronger Trek/Marco Polo Squad - 2008
Big signings for the Trek-Marco Polo outfit come in the form of Chinese former Discovery Channel Pro Team rider Li Fuyu, who makes a return after the Pro Tour outfit folded at the end of last year. He joins another promising signing from Giant Asia, Australian Jai Crawford, who many will remember, finished an astonishing fifth in the Genting Highlands stage of LTdL last year.

Russian strongman Sergey Kudentsov will be the team's main sprinter and will be backed by Japan's Ken Onodera and another Chinese rider Liu Yilin, apart from the presence of Sea Keong. This line-up is subject to change, depending on the availability of the team's new Dutch signing from the Rabobank Pro Tour team, Leon Van Bon.

Meanwhile, a total of 25 teams will grace the 13th edition of the prestigious LTdL. With the increased participation and the return of the Pro Tour teams, combined with the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, who are the main organizers for the event next year, the LTdL 2008 is set to be the best ever since its inception in 1996.

The Tour is also sanctioned by the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF), the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the Asian Cycling Confederation.

One of the major differences in the coming Tour is the idea of taking it closer to the people. To achieve this, more events will be organized on the ground which means more carnival-like activities at all start and finish venues. One of the side events to be included will be cycling clinics.

One of the priorities for the Tour next year is to promote cycling at the grass root level. This will be done via the Rukun Tetangga and Kampung Baru programmes. One of the other key messages will be to encourage more Malaysians to take up cycling as a means to a healthier lifestyle.

Trek-Marco Polo (provisional line-up): Jai Crawford (Aus), Sergey Kudentsov (Rus), Loh Sea Keong (Mas), Li Fuyu (Chn), Liu Yilin (Chn) Ken Onodera (Jap).

 
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