BUKIT JALIL – Italy’s sprinter ace Andrea Guardini of Astana aims at becoming the first rider to win the points classification at Le Tour de Langkawi three times, a performance he was close to achieving already in his third participation last year but illness weakened him in the last two days in Terengganu and his compatriot Francesco Chicchi took the blue jersey off him at the eleventh hour as he claimed the final bunch sprint victory.
Only two other riders have won the points classification on two occasions: Canada’s Gordon Fraser (in 2000 and 2004) and Australian LTdL legend Graeme Brown (in 2003 and 2005). “This is a very difficult competition”, the Le Tour de Langkawi chief operating officer Emir Abdul Jalal explained. “While climbers can target their stages and take it easy in the peloton some days, the points classification requires consistency. Every day, there are points up for grabs, three times a day at intermediate sprints and once on the finishing line.”
The identity of Le Tour de Langkawi makes its points competition a real sprinters’ affair, at the difference of other stage races like the Tour of Spain where it’s sometimes won by a climber. In eighteen years of history of the race, only two non-sprinters have won it: Italian attacker and domestique “Niki” Loda riding for MG-Technogym at the service of Luca Scinto in 1997 and “silver fox” Graeme Miller from New Zealand whose never-give-up attitude earned him the jersey in 1999 at the age of 39. Eventual world champion in 2006 and 2007 Paolo Bettini who won the competition in 2001 was also not a pure sprinter but he had won two bunch sprints, one of them on the penultimate day after the Genting Highlands stage where most of the sprinters, including green jersey wearer Jans Koerts from Mercury, got eliminated for finishing beyond the time cut.
In 2010, the points jersey turned blue and was the only one won by an Asian rider up to date.
That was the pinnacle of Anuar Manan’s career when the Terengganu sprinter ace then riding for Korean team Geumsan Ginseng also became the first Malaysian to win a stage at Le Tour de Langkawi in Port-Dickson. This year, Anuar is reunited with Malaysia’s other fast man Harrif Salleh under the banner of Terengganu but they will face a fierce competition from returning stars Guardini and Chicchi, and moreover Theo Bos who will be backed by a fantastic train formed of Brown, Rick Flens, Dennis van Winden and individual pursuit world record holder Jack Bobridge at Belkin.
Bos, Guardini and Chicchi were all stage winners last year, while Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEdge), Michal Kolar (Tinkoff-Saxo), Kenny van Hummel (Androni-Venezuela), Leonardo Duque (Team Colombia), Yannick Martinez (Europcar), Rico Rogers (OCBC Singapore), Daniel Klemme (Synergy Baku) and Park Sung Baek (KSPO) will be on the hunt for their first success at LTdL at the difference of German veteran Robert Förster (Unitedhealthcare) who imposed himself in Jasin three years ago.
“This looks like the most interesting sprinters’ field we’ve ever had at Le Tour de Langkawi”, Emir noted. “There will be some great action on the flat finishes.”
Previous winners of the points classification at Le Tour de Langkawi:
1996: Jay Sweet (AUS)
1997: Nicola Loda (ITA)
1998: Fred Rodriguez (USA)
1999: Graeme Miller (N.-Z.)
2000: Gordon Fraser (CAN)
2001: Paolo Bettini (ITA)
2002: Robert Hunter (RSA)
2003: Graeme Brown (AUS)
2004: Gordon Fraser (CAN)
2005: Graeme Brown (AUS)
2006: Steffen Radochla (GER)
2007: Alberto Loddo (ITA)
2008: Aurélien Clerc (SUI)
2009: Mattia Gavazzi (ITA)
2010: Anuar Manan (MAL)
2011: Andrea Guardini (ITA)
2012: Andrea Guardini (ITA)
2013: Francesco Chicchi (ITA)
Organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, via the National Sports Council (NSC) in association with the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF). The 19th edition of Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) from February 27 to March 8, 2014 is set to cover a total distance of 1,495.9km over 10 stages, the UCI 2.HC (hors category) race featuring again as one of the biggest events on the UCI Asia Tour calendar.