Thursday, March 5, 2015

It’s Time For Africa

KUALA LUMPUR - The fight for the PROTON yellow jersey at the twentieth Le Tour de Langkawi is a worldwide affair. Representatives of the five continents will line up on Malaysia’s Paradisiacal island on March 8.

Europe will be led by giants Team Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo. Oceania will send Australia’s only World Team Orica-GreenEdge. Both North America (Unitedhealthcare) and South America (Team Colombia) are expected to impact the race. Asia has the highest number of teams on the start list topped by Astana from Kazakhstan, while new comers from the Middle East (Skydive Dubai) and neighbors from Turkey (Torku) and Azerbaijan (Baku) will have their say as well among the record number of 36 nationalities out of 132 riders set to gather on the start line.

History of Le Tour de Langkawi already highlights overall winners from all continents: Oceania (Australia’s Damian McDonald open the record book in 1996), Europe (since Italy’s Luca Scinto won in 1997), America (Chris Horner from USA won in 2000 before Hernan Dario Munoz initiated a Colombian domination in 2002), Africa (South Africa took back to back victories with Ryan Cox and David George ten years ago) and Asia (Iran’s Mirsamad Pourseyedigolakhor took the laurels last year). Clearly, it’s time for Africa again, now that black athletes are also putting their feet in the world of the top cyclists as they do in many other sports.

Merhawi Kudus from Eritrea came second last year at the age of 20 only. With the experience of having completed a Grand Tour (the Vuelta a Espana) since, he’ll return to Malaysia with his MTN-Qhubeka team in the position of a hot favourite. The first African team set to take part in the Tour de France in July this year has chosen a very fine line up destined to reach Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur with the PROTON yellow jersey on March 15. Also from Eritrea, Natnael Berhane and Daniel Teklehaimanot are other excellent climbers, so is the newly crowned South African champion Jacques Janse van Rensburg who has a valuable record at LTdL: 6th overall in 2009, 20th in 2012, 14th in 2013, 6th in 2014.

“It would be wonderful for the prestige of Le Tour de Langkawi to have an African winner this time around”, the CEO of the 2015 LTdL datuk Abdul Malik Mydin said. “When I welcomed Chris Froome at the Langkawi International Mountain Bike Challenge in 2011, he told me about the great improvement of cycling in Africa. But it’s not going to be easy for these guys to beat the World Teams.”

GC riders with a Tour de France pedigree like Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) who already came second overall at LTdL two years ago, Francisco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai) will share the responsibilities of being the favorites with Kudus, as well as Team Sky’s new climbing sensation from Colombia Sebastian Henao, 21.

Since LTdL is often won by South American cyclists, other riders to watch will be Rodolfo Torres (Team Colombia) who came second in the Tour of San Luis in January, Carlos Galviz (Androni-Venezuela) who won a stage at the Vuelta Tachira also in January, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) who won the 2014 Tour de l’Avenir, Edward Beltran (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Isaac Bolivar (Unitedhealthcare) who created a surprise by finishing third at LTdL last year.

Besides Colombians and Venezuelans, the twentieth Le Tour de Langkawi could also mark the beginning of a new era in cycling, shall China’s Wang Meiyin step up once again. Two years ago, the versatile rider from the Shandong province won the Cameron Highlands stage, finished fifth overall as well as best Asian rider and King of the Mountain. His return to Malaysia with Hengxiang is another very interesting one in the wake of the globalization of cycling.

In any case, a new era will begin in the history of Le Tour de Langkawi since no former winner will be in contention this time around.

The overall winners of Le Tour de Langkawi:
1996: Damian McDonald (Aus)
1997: Luca Scinto (Ita)
1998: Gabriele Missaglia (Ita)
1999: Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita)
2000: Chris Horner (USA)
2001: Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita)
2002: Hernan Dario Munoz (Col)
2003: Tom Danielson (USA)
2004: Freddy Gonzalez (Col)
2005: Ryan Cox (RSA)
2006: David George (RSA)
2007: Anthony Charteau (Fra)
2008: Ruslan Ivanov (Mol)
2009: José Serpa (Col)
2010: José Rujano (Ven)
2011: Jonathan Monsalve (Ven)
2012: José Serpa (Col)
2013: Julian Arredondo (Col)
2014: Mirsamad Pourseyedigolakhour (Ira)

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