The white jersey is considered unique in the PETRONAS Le Tour de Langkawi 2023 as it provides an opportunity for Asian riders to shine in this yearly destination for some of the best Pro and Continental cycling teams from around the globe.
The 7-11-Cliqq-Air 21 continental team from the Philippines may not be one of the top Asian contenders but this time, it is banking on its experiences from two tough races in China in its bid to emerge as one of the top finishers in this race that has become Tourism Malaysia’s pride.
Last year’s top Filipino rider, Nichol Pareja, who sparkled with the best Asian finisher in stage 7, is returning to Malaysia with teammates Ismael Gorospe, Junreck Carcueva, Rench Michael Bondoc, Joshua Pascual and team captain Ryan Tugawin and reserve Marco Lumanog.
They are accompanied by team director Ric Rodriguez, assistant team director Roland Zamora and staff members Oliver Nebres and Dan Sembrano, Jr.
Sending his motivational words from Manila, team owner Bong Sual, exhorted his wards to go for the team’s goal of making a podium finish.
“Goal natin lumaban sa Asian classification. Malalakas talaga kalaban pero lalaban na rin lang tayo, taasan na natin goals natin,” said Sual.
Rodriguez affirmed the team’s modest goal confirmed Sual’s goal and “anything that comes after that is already a bonus for us.”
The 7-11-Cliqq-Air 21 will be up against seasoned teams from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
“Back in the Philippines this time of the year, it is almost raining everyday plus bagyo at kung ano-ano pa so di tayo makapag-ensayo ng mabuti kaya we decided to bring the team to these two races in China,” added Rodriguez.
Host Malaysia’s is also hoping for a better finish in the Asian category.
Since the inception of LTdL in 1996, local star Adiq Hussaini Othman has emerged as the only Malaysian to have won the title of Best Asian Rider which he did in the 2016 edition.
Terengganu also have further bragging rights as prodigal son Anuar Manan was also the first Malaysian to win a stage in the annual race series after doing so on Stage 5 at LTdL.
It’s the grueling mountain stage in Genting Highlands is where the race is won and lost, but for sprinters, the PETRONAS Le Tour de Langkawi 2023 offers the 131 riders an equal chance to shine, offering them with six flat stages to clinch glory in Asia’s prestigious ProSeries race that will run until Sept. 30.
Among the serious bidders are three other notable sprinters, Tour of Taihu Lake overall winner George Jackson, Enrico Zanoncello of Green Project Bardiani-CSF-Fanzine and Tudor Cycling Team’s Arvid de Kleijn.
For George Jackson of Bolton Equities Black Spoke, winning the recent Tour of Taihu Lake was a big motivation to do well in the PETRONAS LTdL 2023.
Enrico Zanoncello, in his first LTdL in the colours of Green Project-Bardiani-CSF-Fanzine, is determined to follow the footsteps of former team star Andrea Guardini who created great legacies of winning a record 24-stage wins throughout his seven-year campaign in LTdL.
“To achieve the same results as Guardini, definitely it would be impossible. But for LTdL 2023, I hope to win at least a stage, and we’ll see how it goes from there,” said Zanonchello, a former Cofidis rider who has a colorful record of racing in Asia. The Italian sprinter came in second overall behind Blake in the Tour of Taihu Lake (2.Pro) race, apart from winning a stage in the Tour of Qinghai Lake (2.Pro) in July.
This year’s LTDL 2023 could also see the rise of Dutch sprinter, Arvid de Kleijn of Tudor Cycling Team, who are making their debut in the race. The 29-year-old sprinter will surely come under scrutiny following his first major win in this year’s Milano-Torino (1. Pro) race, stage wins in the Deutschland Tour (2.Pro) and ZLM Tour (2.Pro).
De Kleijn has a huge reputation as a sprinter, having beaten the world’s top sprinters including Mark Cavendish. “This is my first time in LTdL, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about the race…I’m highly motivated to do well,” de Kleijn, fondly nicknamed Little Gorilla.
On the race route, the Dutchman admitted that the overall winner would be decided amongst the top climbers, with Genting Highlands as the decider.
The battle for the PETRONAS Green Overall Winner’s jersey is set to sizzle with tough battles set as early as stage 3 (Jeli-Banting) before what could be the decider in Stage 5 (Slim River-Genting Highlands, Hors Category climb).
EF Education-EasyPosts’ Simor Carr who will be among the front runners in the mountain stages, did not hide his intention of winning in Genting, and at the same, redeeming the loss of compatriot Hugh McCarthy, last year in Genting.
Raised in the Pyrenees in the south of France, the 25-year-old Carr is regarded as one of the Tour’s serious GC and mountain contenders following his consistent performances and victories in this year’s Tour of the l’Alps and Tour de Occitanie. He has had some good results as a junior which opened the path for him to join EF Education-EasyPost in 2021 from Nippo Delko One Provence.
Meanwhile, Ecuadorian Harold Martin Lopez, in his second appearance here, hopes that his experience in the Tour last would help him improve on his standings and help Astana Qazaqstan Team in overall outcome.
“This time, we have a good balance of climbers and sprinters, with last year’s stage winner Gleb Syritsa as our best bet in the sprints. As for the mountains, we have Vadim Pronsky to rely on,” said Lopez, who is in his third year as a full pro with Astana.
Themed ‘Beat The Heat’, LTdL 2023 is organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports through the National Sports Council (NSC), in collaboration with the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF).
The 1,278.1km Tour traverses through 11 states in the Peninsula and ends in front of the PETRONAS Twin Tower on Sept 30.