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CYCLING / LE TOUR DE LANGKAWI: Asia comes of age


THRILLING: Region’s riders have it in them to challenge the world

THERE hasn't been a Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) race with a better composition of riders than the 132 that made up the start list of the 18th edition that ended with overall victory for Colombia's Julian Arredondo on Saturday.

As pint-sized Arredondo, 25, struggled to hold aloft the hefty trophy depicting the eagle, synonymous with the legendary island the Tour gets its name from, it was also a morale booster for the UCI Asia Tour, which predominantly features third-tier UCI Continental teams.

Riding for Japan's Team Nippo-De Rosa, Arredondo is the first rider from an Asian team to bag the overall title, the first to be won by a rider from a UCI Continental Team.

This showed the UCI Asia Tour was slowly but surely coming of age with a decent level of cycling in the continental scene.

Arredondo's surge up Genting Highlands to emerge victorious on Stage Five after finishing second behind Hengxiang Cycling Team's Wang Meiyin in the Cameron Highlands stage in Stage Three, gave Arredondo a comfortable one minute and 15 seconds advantage over second placed Pieter Weening of Orica-GreedEdge, and which staked his claim for the overall title.

Meiyin, himself, made it a memorable moment for riders from this continent, when he captured the leads in all four classifications contested when he won the Cameron Highlands stage, emerging the first ever rider to do so. Eventually he finished with victories in the mountains and Asian riders' classification.

Francesco Chicchi of Vini Fantini has a bit of luck in bagging the points classification victory, the race this time, held in varying conditions from scorching sun to torrential rain daily.

The weather claimed the health of Theo Bos of Blanco who won the opening two stages before he was forced to retire with flu. Andrea Guardini of Astana, who inherited the points classification lead from Bos, then struggled to bring himself to the finish after falling sick in Stage Eight, surrendering the points classification to Chicchi on the final day.

Such was the challenges of the weather conditions and terrain in LTdl that it highlighted the difference between this race and others on earth.

Never has LTdL been run so smoothly since the 2004 edition, after which it went through its darkest period for two years before revival in 2007.

Apart from the unpredictable accidents involving commissaires, team cars and other vehicles, LTdL could have done without lengthy transfers between hotels and starts and finish venues daily.

That relived the unwanted nickname "Le Transfer de Langkawi", which was derived from previous editions that involved those avoidable circumstances.

On the sidelines, the efforts of private company, Human Voyage Sdn Berhad, to wrest the organisational duties of LTdL from the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF), National Sports Council (NSC) and the Sports Ministry did not go unnoticed.

With a smooth running of this year's race, LTdL is beginning to regain its past glories. LTdL was ravaged by mismanagement of sponsorship funds and non-payment of dues to contractors, non-payment of prize money and hotel bills, resulting in a debt of RM10.7 million which brought the race to its knees.

The decision on the change in organiser remains with the Sports Ministry which funds LTdL via the NSC, which in turn co-organise the race with the MNCF. But the final say remains with the MNCF, whose executive committee has decided against the proposal.

As such, whether next year will see a continuation of the good work done this year or yet another twist for the fans who had turned up in droves at routes along every stage this year.

Julian Arredondo

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