THE big guns have arrived and are ready to race in what will be a very special edition of the Petronas Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) which flags off its silver jubilee in Kuching tomorrow.
Leading the cast is South Africa-based WorldTeam NTT Pro Cycling whose hopes in the general classification (GC) will be led by Louis Meintjes.
The South African, placed in the top-10 at both the Tour de France and Vuelta Espana in the past, is eager to stamp his mark on LTdL.
NTT, previously named Team Dimension Data, took back-to-back overall wins at LTdL in 2016-2017 through Reinardt Janse Van Rensburb and Ryan Gibbons.
“LTdL is a race in which a number of South African riders have done well in and it would be good if we can continue to be successful here,” said Meintjes in Kota Kinabalu yesterday.
“My winter preparation was not ideal due to a bit of illness but I will be going 100 per cent to test myself and see what kind of result I can get. Getting a good result here (at start of new season) would be great.
“We also have Max Walscheid in the team who is a really good sprinter as well as Samuele Battistella who already has some racing in his legs this season.”
NTT have decided to leave Australian Benjamin Dyball, the LTdL defending champion, out of their squad due to illness. NTT signed Dyball from Team Sapura Cycling late last year.
Meintjes, 27, stressed that the 156.1km fourth stage from Putrajaya to Genting Highlands will be the key to success for the GC hopefuls.
Genting Highlands, which was left out for a number of years due to construction works, made a return to the tour last season.
“Genting Highlands is a tough, true climb and it is going to be a really important stage where LTdL is won or lost,” added Meintjes.
The queen stage is more challenging for riders this year as there will be four categorised climbs at Tekali, Ampang Look Out Point, Selayang and Rawang before the riders reach the base of Genting Highlands. That could see some early attacks occurring.
Former Tour de France and Giro d’Italia stage winner Pierre Rolland of B&B Hotels-Vital Concept could be a dark horse.
While the 33-year-old Frenchman admitted he is not at his best, it would be unwise for his rivals to write him off, considering the vast experience he has under his belt.
“I’m really happy to be back here again, I like it when it is hot and it is hot here. I had a really good summer after coming here in 2011 and 2013,” said Rolland, who last competed in LTdL in 2013.
“Unfortunately I had a small problem in the winter due to a crash and lost three weeks of training. I don’t have any real goals here, I just want to improve my feeling and condition on the bike.”
Terengganu Cycling Team’s (TSG) new signing, Carlos Quintero of Colombia, hopes to follow in the footsteps of the past Colombian winners at LTdL.
“This is my second time after coming here in 2014 with Team Colombia, I finished 10th overall then,” said Quinterro.
“This is a very important race for us Colombians and many have won here before. I hope to be among the top five when we reach Genting Highlands.”
Colombians Hernan Dario Munox (2002), Fredy Gonzalez (2004), Jose Serpa (2009, 2012) and Julian Arredondo (2013) won the yellow jersey in past editions of LTdL.
An LTdL support event, dubbed the Malaysian International Criterium Race (90.0km), will be held in Kota Kinabalu today.