Tour de Langkawi 2008: Less Pro Tour teams, more Grand Tour teams.

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08.02.2008/ The lesser number of Pro Tour teams in the 13th edition of Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) which runs from February 9 to 17 in Malaysia has not worried the organising committee too much, as all that has transpired within the pro cycling circles has been taken into account.

"With the differences between the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the big race organisers in Europe, the Pro Tour concept has been hard hit,” said Le Tour de Langkawi chief operating officer Datuk Naim Mohamad at the handover ceremony of the Yellow Jersey which was attended by Zainab Hashim, the vice-president of Integrated Marketing, Malaysia Business, TM.

“For those who follow cycling, it will be a subjective matter in deciding which the pinnacle of cycling is. For most, the three Grand Tours - Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana - are incomparable, the best of the best in stage race cycling,"

In evaluating those factors, a balance in the selection of teams was implemented by LTdL's invitations committee chaired by Datuk Naim.

"Besides the committee, we had evaluated input from contacts in Europe and dealt directly with teams which were interested. Finally we realised that it didn't really matter, in fact we went for the option of pursuing teams with better followings, which are those that compete in the Grand Tours," added Datuk Naim.

In 2007, LTdL attracted five Pro Tour teams, but this year just three - Credit Agricole, Bouygues Telecom and Ag2r-La Mondiale - will be starting the race this Saturday.

"But if you compare the number of Grand Tour teams, last year we had six and this year eight. It is up to the fans to decide which is better. Personally, I believe the teams with the better following from fans are those that compete in the Grand Tours," said Datuk Naim.

In 2007, the six Grand Tour teams were Crédit Agricole, Ag2r, FDJ, Bouygues Telecom, Panaria and Tinkoff. This year, the eight Grand Tour teams are Crédit Agricole, Ag2r, Bouygues Telecom, CSF-Navigare, Tinkoff, NGC Medical-OTC Industria Porte, Serramenti Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli and Karpin-Galicia.

"If you look at the recent list of teams set to ride in the Giro in May, not all Pro Tour teams are there; while some of the better professional continental teams have made the cut. In LTdL, we will have the likes of Tinkoff, Serramenti Diquigiovanni, CSF-Navigare and NGC Medical-OTC Industria Porte, all of whom are the professional continental teams who will be preparing for the Giro. Besides that, we will have Karpin-Galicia from Spain, who will be competing in the Vuelta in September," Datuk Naim explained.

"At this stage, to identify the level of a team is not necessarily by which tier of the league they belong to, but by how good their teams are. And to most of us, the best teams are those who compete in the big three races. On top of that, we want the teams who come here to perform, not just be here because they are Pro Tour teams," added Datuk Naim.

"This doesn't necessarily mean that we'll always stick to this format in our selection, but this can be quite interesting as well. With a record 25 teams in the race, it is almost a certainty that LTDL 2008 will be an interesting affair. We always think of the European teams as the strongest, but if you look at what happened last year, it was Asia's best team - Giant Asia - who bagged the overall team title. This is why I believe we need to keep up to date and be able to provide a nice balance of teams in order to have an interesting race," Datuk Naim concluded.

LTdL 2008 begins on February 9 (Saturday) with a stage from Alor Star, Kedah to Kepala Batas in Penang, seat of Malaysia's Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The stage covers 182.6 kilometres.

The race's nine stages cover a total distance of 1,377 kilometres, running through 10 states in Peninsula Malaysia. For the first time this year, Fraser's Hill has replaced Genting Highlands as the main climbing stage of the race.

Le Tour de Langkawi maintains its status as one of only two hors-category races in Asia, and the biggest annual cycling event in the continent.

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