The Le Tour de Langkawi (LTDL) is one of Asia’s most prestigious cycling races and it has been running for 17 years. The idea of the race was supposedly founded in 1996 by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad to provide more opportunities for Asian and Malaysian riders to measure themselves against world-class riders. The fact that Asian riders have the opportunities to race side-by-side with prominent teams has done a lot for Asian confidence to compete on the world stage as well as grow cycling from the grassroots levels; there is a large fan base that line the streets in Malaysia to support the racing.
With UCI’s push for the globalisation of cycling, pro races around Asia have been growing at a fast rate and now there are now more than 30 Tours held in Asia, with only two holding 2.HC status: Tour of Qinghai Lake and Le Tour de Langkawi. The Asian Tours are providing a very important role as an effective platform to promote Asian countries as tourism destinations to the world.
In the 2012 edition of Le Tour de Langkawi, two World Tour teams competed (Garmin-Barracuda and Astana), but this could be changing in the not too distant future as LTDL have the lofty goal to achieve World Tour status. This year’s edition was one that was supposed to showcase their readiness to become part of the UCI World Tour Series. The race organisation has the support of key people in the UCI and once the upgrade is achieved, it will dramatically raise the level of competition and re-establish the event as Asia’s most prestigious.
Le Tour de Langkawi has been a hotbed for launching the careers of top world-class cyclists such as Mark Cavendish before he went on to become a household name in the world of sprinters. Other notable names, which returned in the 2012 edition, include Alexandre Vinokourov and Tom Danielson. Both of these world riders enjoyed successful early beginning of their professional careers at the Langkawi Tour: Danielson won the 2003 Tour at the age of 23 while Vinokourov launched his pro career with LTDL in 1997.
The MTN-Qhubeka Team is touted to be the first all African team, comprising of four Black Africans from Rhwanda and Eritrea. This is further proof of the globalisation of cycling that we are currently witnessing. With the increase of quality of the UCI events in Asia, the abilities of Asian riders will also improve and Australian riders will have a lot more high-level competitive races closer to home available.
The Garmin-Barracuda team came out guns all blazing on the back of a dominant opening 20km ITT victory by Dave Zabriskie and they controlled the race in fine fashion for the first four days – keeping their leader safely in Yellow. The Aussie Drapac Cycling Team surprised many with two of their riders: Adam Phelan and Darren Lapthorne, both landing on the podium with outstanding rides.
Garmin-Barracuda fell to pieces during stage five with Dave Zabriskie having major difficulties in the climbs and then three others also could not stay with the lead group. Despite Adam Phelan (who was in 2nd position overall) pulling out early on day four due to crash injuries, it was a fine day for Drapac as Lapthorne rode brilliantly in the closing kilometers to go clear with the eventual overall winner, Jose Serpa. Lappers finished second to the lightweight Columbian, but in the process slipped into the yellow jersey.
Things were looking good for Drapac to defend Yellow going up the Genting Highlands, but a combination of illness and the Latin-American invasion on the slopes of Genting caused Lapthorne to explode and relinquish yellow to Jose Serpa. Jose Serpa become the first man in history to win Le Tour de Langkawi twice and he has been unbeaten in all his attempts up the feared Genting Highlands climb. The Androni-Giocattoli Cycling Team, composed of climbers, train and peak specifically for this event and look out for the name Jose Serpa in the upcoming Giro. The expected battle from Tom Danielson did not eventuate as he had faced difficulties from crashing heavily on stage four and also catching a cold that prevented him from doing an assault on Genting; instead he finished well back in the field and he then withdrew from the Tour.
In the sprinters battle, it was Andrea Guardini from the Farnesse Vini cycling team that reigned supreme with six stage wins and appears to be unbeatable, at least at Le Tour de Langkawi. Guardini was simply just too explosive for his main rivals especially Jake Keough (UHCProcycling) who tried so hard with the aid of his ‘Blue Train’ to try and upset the Italian sprinter. His record haul of six stage wins at one event gave him a total of 11 wins in two years and Guardini has taken the record from Graeme Brown, who previously held the record with nine wins. Again, LTDL is a breeding ground for future stars in making and this time the brightest one is Andrea Guardini. Time will tell if he can sprint against the likes of Mark Cavendish.
Asia’s first Pro-Continential cycling team, Champion System, had a reasonable showing with their star sprinter Anuar Manan taking third on one of the stages. However, after winning a stage in the 2011 edition, it was disappointing not to see this Malaysian version of Mark Cavendish win here again.
One of the biggest Malaysian successes during the tour was Harrif Salleh who is riding for the country’s only professional UCI Continental team, Terengganu Cycling Team. Salleh posted a career best second place behind Guardini and looks poised for greater things on the Asian UCI circuit. It was also fitting that the last three stages were hosted by the state of Terengganu.
You can see the results from each stage of the Tour of Langkawi here.