LANGKAWI, Saturday - While the presence of the world's biggest teams - Team Sky and Saxo-Tinkoff - will arguably be the main draw of the 20th edition of Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) that starts in Pantai Chenang tomorrow, the battle of the sprinters is likely to be explosive in the earlier stages.
With a line-up of sprinters that features the likes of Alessandro Petacchi, Andrea Guardini, Caleb Ewan, Francesco Chicchi and Jakub Mareczko, the race will be lit up by explosive bunch sprints in the predominantly flat stages of the race.
Local hopes will lie with TSG's Anuar Manan, who says his team packs a good chance with teammate Harrif Saleh on form, having already bagged two UCI Asia Tour stage wins this season.
The legendary 41-year old Petacchi still packs a powerful sprint, but remains certain that he will be working more for his Southeast teammate Mareczko, while the young Australian Ewan could be the surprise package in this year's edition which will start with Astana's record stage winner Guardini as the favourite.
Both Italians, Petacchi and Guardini began their careers with stage victories in LTdL, Petacchi in 1999 and Guardini in 2011, but while the former is likely to be on the verge of winding down his career, the latter is at his peak and this could yet be his most successful yet, with already a stage win in the Tour of Oman under his belt.
"I don't know if this is the best form of my life, but I have worked a lot during the winter to prepare for this season and I have good form, that showed in Oman where I won a stage and I had good form in the other races leading to this one," said Guardini, who in 2012 achieved a record of six stage wins in one edition of LTdL.
"This year we have two stages less than last year, with eight stages, but there are some stages which could be good, like the one here in Langkawi where I won my first stage. We will first try to go for the first win, then see what happens after that."
Petacchi says he is now more as a lead-out man for Mareczko, but will not pass on an opportunity to go for a win should it arise.
"I can try to sprint for wins, but in our team we have also have a good chance with Mareczko. We need to do good sprints with Mareczko to help him win stages, but if there are some days when he finds it hard, then I can try to win myself," said Petacchi.
Young Ewan comes to the race on the back of a strong showing in the Herald Sun Tour, where he won two stages in his first season with the UCI Pro Team Orica-GreenEdge, but admits the strength of the field could see the going tough for him, but the immense heat in Malaysia could work in his favour.
Team Sky will parade a team led by young Colombian Sebastian Henao, who will be the one the team is banking on to deliver the overall title, but his main challengers could well be in the form of fellow-Colombians in the field, also the young Eritrean Merhawi Kudus, who shocked the world by finishing second overall last year.
"I am going to look at how the race goes. Yes, normally we have a good showing here from Colombians, mainly because we are used to the weather, which is similar. But we are also normally good for the climbs. We have a good team here, with also Philip Deignan capable of climbing well. We will see how it goes," said Henao, 22.