RANKINGS AND REPUTATIONS MEAN NOTHING
KUALA LUMPUR: Based on the latest UCI rankings as of March 25, Italian outfit Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec will be the highest ranked among the 22 teams that will take the startline for the 24th edition of Le Tour de Langkawi from April 6 to 13.
The team managed by Gianni Savio is ranked 23rd amongst the UCI teams with 2,767 points, followed by Neri Sottoli-Selle Italia-KTM (1,682.72), Gazprom-Rusvelo (1,425) and the two Malaysian continental teams - Team Sapura Cycling (1,222) and Terengganu Inc-TSG Cycling Team (1,190), while Bardiani-CSF, which will feature "Mr. Langkawi" Andrea Guardini in LTdL, are 58th in the team rankings.
That said, rankings and reputations are never the deciding factor or guarantee of success in the eight stages of LTdL 2019 as the race's history shows many instances of surprises and shock results since its inception in 1996.
This is likely due to the diverse form of riders on the startlist, who have been racing in Oceania, Latin America, Europe and the Far East before flying to Malaysia, where they face a different challenge in the tropical heat, along with the challenging Hors category climb in Genting Highlands.
In last year's edition, with only the Cameron Highlands summit as the queen stage, TSG only managed to rank 13th in the teams' classification despite its rider Artem Ovechkin winning the overall individual general classification, while Willier Triestina which put together a consistent team effort, finished as the top ranked team in the race despite top rider Giuseppe Fonzi only ranked fifth in the individual general classification.
Based on the provisional startlist provided to organisers Human Voyage Sdn Bhd, LTdL 2019 can again be expected to feature a an interesting challenge with teams looking to form a multitude of strategies with diverse focus on the challenges for the yellow jersey for the individual general classification, the King of the Mountains jersey or the teams' classification.
Androni, traditionally the most successful team in LTdL, have in recent editions suffered a drop in form. Holding the record number of yellow jerseys beginning with Hernan Dario Munoz in 2002, Freddy Gonzalez in 2004, Ruslan Ivanov in 2008, Jose Serpa in 2009 and 2012, Jose Rujano in 2010 and Yonathan Monsalve in 2012, the team will be looking to end a seven-year drought in LTdL general classification titles.
The team also won the teams classification in 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012, apart from two points classification titles through Alberto Loddo in 2007 and Mattia Gavazzi in 2009. However, since 2012, Androni have been rather lakclustre, only managing two stage wins through Kenny van Hummel in 2014 and Manuel Belletti in Muar last year.
It is a tough ask of Savio to revive the glory says of Androni in LTdL, based on their season in Europe thus far, and the charismatic veteran Italian strategist will have to decide on the teams focus in this race, be it with sprinters Marco Benfatto and Matteo Pelucchi in the flat stages or to put an all-out emphasis on the general classification through climbers Alessandro Bisolti, Daniel Munoz and Kevin Riviera.
The race for the yellow jersey and king of the mountains can be expected to be a heated one with TSG's Ovechkin already stating his intentions of defending the historic title he won last year as the first representative of a Malaysian team to do so, while a challenge can also be expected from Colombian Alvaro Duarte, who finished ninth riding for the Forca-Amskins team last year and will this year return with the new Brunei Continental Team.
Fresh from his overall victory in the Tour of Taiwan last week, Australian Jonathan Clarke of Floyd's Racing will also be looking for a general classification push, having experienced LTdL with the United Healthcare team in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
Neri Sottoli juga dilihat mampu berada di kelompok utama apabila menyenaraikan dua bekas pelumba Wilier Triestina, Giuseppe Fonzi yang menduduki tangga kelima keseluruhan dan Luca Raggio (12) pada tahun lalu.
Neri Sottoli are also seen as potential contenders through Giuseppe Fonzi, the former Wilier Triestina rider who finished 5th and Luca Raggio who finished 12th last year.
Oliver's Real Food Racing will be lining up the LTdL 2017 overall runner-up Cameron Bayly, who finished second that year riding for Team IsoWhey, as well as Brendon Davids, who finished seventh riding for the Bennelong team last year, as well as winning the overall title in Jelajah Malaysia 2017.
Debutants Team Ukyo of Japan, owned by legendary Japanese Formula 1 and GT driver Ukyo Katayama, also look formidable with Dutch rider Raymond Kreder, who won the Tour of Tochigi in Japan last week, assisted by Australian teammate Robbie Hucker, who finished 13th overall in LTdL 2017.
Another rider expected to challenge in the Genting Highlands stage of the fourth day of the Tour is 2018 Tour of Qinghai Lake winner Hernan Aguirre of Colombia, who along with his Interpro Cycling Academy team will debut in LTdL.
Shenzen Xidesheng’s Ilya Davidenok, with his reputation as former winner of Tour of Fuzhou and Tour of Qinghai Lake, could also pose as a major threat to other notable climbers in the peloton.
However, all these are mere predictions on paper and the reality will be played out during the race by the team managers looking to outdo each other with their strategies along the course of the eight stages from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi.
The same goes for the sprinters, where despite Guardini's record 24 stage wins in LTdL, it remains to be seen if the 29-year old will be able to add to his collection of 4 points classification titles.
This scenario makes the 24th edition of LTdL, which is due to be flagged of at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre this Saturday, an interesting but unpredictable proposition.
TEAMS FOR LTdL2019:
- VINO-ASTANA MOTORS (Kazakhstan)
- MICHELTON BIKE EXCHANGE (China)
- BARDIANI CSF (Italy)
- ANDRONI GIOCATTOLI-SIDERMEC (Italy)
- GAZPROM RUSVELO (Russia)
- NERI SOTTOLI SELLE ITALIA KTM (Italy)
- TERENGGANU INC. TSG CYCLING TEAM (Malaysia)
- TEAM SAPURA CYCLING TEAM (Malaysia)
- CUSTOM CYCLING INDONESIA (CCI) TEAM (Indonesia)
- KSPO BIANCHI ASIA PRO CYCLING TEAM (Korea)
- GIANT CYCLING TEAM (China)
- FLOYD’S PRO CYCLING (Canada)
- PRO RACING SUNSHINE COAST (Australia)
- ST GEORGE CONTINENTAL CYCLING TEAM (Australia)
- INTERPRO CYCLING ACADEMY (Japan)
- TEAM UKYO (Japan)
- OLIVER’S REAL FOOD RACING (Australia)
- PROTOUCH (South Africa)
- BRUNEI CONTINENTAL CYCLING TEAM
- SHENZHEN XIDESHENG CYCLING TEAM (China)
- MALAYSIAN NATIONAL TEAM
- JAPAN NATIONAL TEAM
The much awaited Genting climb takes place on the fourth day from Shah Alam. Langkawi will host the penultimate and final stages on 12 and 13 April respectively.
In tandem with the Tour’s “Sports Unite, Cycling Contributes” theme, the organisers are hoping that this year’s edition receives even greater response and support from spectators, masses and fans across Malaysia.
Malaysian and European fans will be able to catch the action via a 90-minute live broadcast of the race and a 30-minute daily highlights throughout the eight-day event. Overall, LTdL is looking at a coverage of over 100 counties with 310 million viewers on television and 70 million viewers through Cycling.TV.
To enhance fan experience and to encourage the community to come out and support this event, accompanying activities will be held at the finishing location of each stage throughout the race.