February 4/04 8:57 am - Langkawi Pre-race Report
Posted by Editor on 02/4/04
Langkawi Pre-Race Report
It is now a little less than a day until the start of the 2004 Tour de Langkawi. Roland Green and Alexandre Lavallee are in Malaysia (since Monday), and the rest of Team Canada (Charles Dionne, Dominque Perras, Cory Lange, Peter Wedge and Eric Wolhberg) arrived in from New Zealand last night after a gruelling 18 hour journey. Gord Fraser (Health Net) has been here since Monday, and brings the number of Canadians in this year's event to 8.
The race covers 1250 kilometres in 10 stages, starting on the island of Penang and ending with the traditional circuit race in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Six of the ten stages are for the sprinters, so we hope to see Fraser and Dionne on the podium here. The race layout is a little different from the last few years, when it has mainly been sprinting until the Genting climb determines the final GC. This year, the race opens with a 112 kilometre flat stage, then two stages with climbs. Stage 2 ends in the Cameron Highlands and, on paper, looks to be very hard, finishing with a 50 kilometre (!) climb. However, this is deceptive, since the climb is very gradual, and should not result in any serious splits. In 2001 Mark Walters finished second in this stage and took the leaders jersey for two days.
Stage 3 also features a significant climb, but the last 35 kilometres are downhill with a finishing flat run in, so most of the race should come back together. The climb and descent are more technical and, in 2001, it was raining, so there were a number crashes. It could be factor, if the weather is poor again.
However, for the overall race, Stage 5 is expected to be the one where the serious contenders first show themselves. It is a flat 18 kilometre time trial along the western coast at Melaka. Wind should be a factor, and it is normally very hot. The length is long enough that we could see some serious time gaps.
After that, it is back to sprinting until stage 9 - the traditional, and feared climb up to the Genting Highlands. A Valentines Day gift to the riders...
Notes and Rumours
- This is quite possibly the strongest team Canada has ever sent to Langkawi, and a number of other teams have noted the strength. Roland Green, fourth last year, and winner of the Climber's Jersey, is certainly one of the favourites for the overall title, and Charles Dionne is going to be one of the sprinters to watch out for. Eric Wohlberg will, as always, be a favourite for the time trial - although, his bike was lost on the trip from New Zealand, and has not yet surfaced. Peter Wedge pointed out that this is not necessarily such a bad thing, since it happened at Commonwealth Games in Malaysia in 1998, and Eric won gold... The rest of the squad is also very strong, with every one but Alexandre Lavallee fresh off a good race in New Zealand. Roland says that his plan is to test his legs a bit on the climbs in stages 2 and 3, and then "stay hidden" until the time trial. "At that point I should know whether I am in the shape to contest the overall."
- Health Net has only two riders who are Langkawi vets - Fraser and Scott Moninger. This will be Moninger first major test since his one year suspension (banned substances in a nutritional supplement led to the positive). He will be using Langkawi to improve his form and get ready for the U.S. season. Gord Fraser says that "I'm in the best shape of my life", after training in Arizona with team mate Mike Sayers. (Roland Green noted that Gord looked very lean and fit on a training ride yesterday). Fraser will, of course, be going for stage wins, but the team will be using the race just as much as a training exercise, since many of the riders have never had a chance to work as a team before - they came together from the former 7 Up-Maxxis and Health Net squads.
- Colombia Selle Italia has shown up with a squad that should be fit, having won the Vuelta Tachira in Venezuela last week. One worry is that their young star climber, Venezuelan Jose Rujano, crashed and hurt his knee on Tuesday. Selle Italia has two other strong climbers on the squad - Ruber Alveiro Marin (2002 TdL Climber's Jersey) and Freddy Gonzalez (winner of the Vuelta Tachira Climber's Jersey last week).
- UCI TT/I team Chocolade Jacques Wincor Nixdorf should be a contender with their rider David Bruylandts (currently ranked 35th in the world) and Jan Koerts (113th), however, the manager (Johan Capiot) says that this is early season for them, and the riders are not in top shape.
- The Malaysian national squad has impressive funding for the race: approximately $100,000 Canadian in sponsorship! They have also been promised cash bonuses for any stage wins.
- While Gord Fraser and Charles Dionne are the Canadian sprint favourites, they will have to go up against some stiff competition. Luciano Pagliarini (Lampre), who won three stages last year, is a contender, as is former mutli-stage winner Ivan Quaranta (Formaggi Pinzolo Fiave) and last year's green jersey winner Graeme Brown (TTI Panaria Magres).