THE 19th Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) on Feb 27-March 8 could see an unprecedented six top tier UCI Pro Teams in action with efforts to bring Loh Sea Keong's Argos-Shimano side to the race underway.Already the 2.HC Tour has confirmed the return of Kazakhstan's Astana, Australia's Orica-GreenEdge and Belkin Pro Cycling from the Netherlands, who made their race debut as Team Blanco this year.
Two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador's Saxo-Tinkoff team are confirmed as well although it is unlikely that the Spaniard will be in the squad for LTdL, while Russia's Katusha could yet feature Spanish star Joaquim Rodriguez, who will be preparing for a strong performance in the Giro d'Italia.
"As it was confirmed only last Sunday that Sea Keong will be the first Malaysian ever to ride for a UCI Pro Team, we definitely want him to be in the race with his new team. So we have began serious negotiations with Argos-Shimano for them to send a squad to our race," said LTdL chief operating officer Emir Abdul Jalal.
"Eventually we might even get up to seven UCI Pro Teams as French team Europcar are currently in the midst of pursuing UCI Pro Team status, while they have already confirmed participation in LTdL as a UCI Professional Continental team currently."
Emir was speaking after the handing over ceremony of Malaysia Airlines' sponsorship of the LTdL white jersey for the leading Asian rider in the race, which also sees a spectacular start of the Tour's queen stage to be hosted by the national carrier at the Subang Skypark being planned.
"It will be a spectacle that we've been planning for a long time, but this time it will finally happen. The start will be against the backdrop of a Malaysia Airlines aircraft as the peloton takes off from the start line," said Emir.
Malaysia Airlines regional senior vice president Muzammil Mohamad upped the ante for Malaysians to perform beyond themselves in the race, by offering an incentive package of free regional flights and a mouth-watering flight for two to Paris to watch the Tour de France for a Malaysian rider who wins the overall Asian riders' classification.
"This is an incentive to spur our riders to do something special in the race. If any Malaysian manages to take the Malaysia Airlines white jersey in any stage, we will provide them two tickets to any regional destination, which means anywhere in South East Asia," said Muzammil.
"That is an offer for every stage, while should there be a Malaysian who wins the overall Asian riders' title, they will get tickets for two to Paris to watch the Tour de France."
No Malaysian has ever won the LTdL Asian riders' classification since it was contested in the third edition of the race in 1998. Indonesian legend Tonton Susanto holds the record of most LTdL Asian riders' titles with three victories in 1998, 2002 and 2009. By Arnaz M. Khairul
Meanwhile, the Terengganu Government yesterday dropped a bombshell in announcing the withdrawal of an RM2 million sponsorship package, putting the LTdL) in a limbo.
Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said said this was due to the state government's displeasure at not being granted the hosting job for cycling events in the 2017 Sea Games.
In voicing his resentment at Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin's decision to also review the hosting of the Monsoon Cup, which could be moved to another state, Ahmad asked the organisers to find alternative routes from the scheduled final three of the race's 10 stages which were supposed be held in Terengganu.
"We feel we are not appreciated. Terengganu has contributed greatly to the development of sports and athletes for the country, particularly in cycling," said Ahmad.
Johor has been slated as the host state for road cycling events, while Negri Sembilan, where the new world class velodrome is being planned, would host track events.
"We are not interested in hosting LTdL, so I suggest the organisers find alternative routes," said Ahmad.