LE Tour de Langkawi (LTdL)
UCI 2.HC TOUR RACE | Date: 18th March – 25th March
Since Le Tour de Langkawi’s inception in 1996, no East Asian team has ever won the overall general classification in this Asia’s prestige bike event. For a Malaysian team to win on its home soil it would be a historical moment. This year’s race consisted of 8 stages from Northern Malaysia Kangar crossing over to East Coast of Terengganu then traveling south to Johor before finishing in Malaysia capital Kuala Lumpur. The route did not feature steep climb of Genting Highlands so it meant many riders could be in Yellow Jersey contention before finishing on historical Dataran Merdeka.
For Terengganu Cycling Team (TSG), we started with 3 Malaysians, team captain Zamri Saleh, lead sprinter Harrif Saleh, Sharul Mat Amin and 3 foreigners Drew Morey (AUS), Metkel Eyob (ERI) and latest TSG addition Artem Ovechkin from Russia. With 3 foreign climbers and 3 sprinters, we were targeting podiums for both sprint finish and overall GC result.
The first 3 stages were not a good start for TSG, crashes and missed opportunities have costed any significant result. Stage 4 bunch sprint finish to Pekan, team worked hard to get Harrif to a good position into the tricky 3km finish, Harrif did not disappoint by delivering first podium result in LTDL just behind Minali of Astana and Guardini of Bardiani.
Stage 5 to finishing at top of Cameron Highlands 1500 meters above sea level was the chance for climbers to shine. Into the last 25km, all 3 of TSG’s climbers Drew, Metkel and Artem were in the selected group of 30 odd riders which controlled by Team Astana chasing a small group of breakaway riders from earlier.
Artem made a solo attack from the front peloton, hesitation in the group to chase and tailwind allowed Artem to quickly open up a 2 minutes lead. Into the last 10km, the gap was still holding just under 2 minutes; front peloton finally reacted with a flurry of attacks. Ben Dyball from St George Team was only one able to jump away from rest.
Into the last 3 km, Ben was closing in rapidly, cutting the lead to just 30 seconds, but Artem dug deep to hold the 30-second gap all the way to the finish line. Winning the stage and taking the overall race leader jersey. Metkel finished top 10 with Drew followed closely behind at 12th. With 3 TSG riders in the top 15 GC at LTDL is certainly the best possible position, however, the race is far from over with 3 more stages to come.
Stage 6 was the last chance for TSG’s sprinter to deliver another good result while defending the yellow jersey. TSG riders rode at the front of the race all day protecting the race leader Artem while looking after Harrif. Harrif got to perfect position into the last kilometer, Team Wilier Triestina’s Luca Pacioni jumped early and took the stage honor with Minali and Harrif followed closely behind gave him 2nd podium finish against some of best sprinters in the world. Despite impressive feat celebration for TSG still had to wait as most difficult days were to follow.
Stage 7 Nilai to Muar 222.4km stage consisting of 6 steep climbs was the actual queen stage of this year’s race. TSG needed every luck to defend the jersey but it was not going to be easy as Drew came down with fever overnight and Metkel was involved in a crash just 20k into start, his left knee was injured, despite blood and pain, he soldiered on.
Meanwhile, Harrif, Zamri, and Sharul worked tirelessly in the first part of the race, before attacks from every major team broke peloton into pieces on day’s 4th climb. A small group of riders broke away including Thomas Lebas of Kinan team who was 6th in the GC just 1:08 behind Artem, at one point Thomas became virtual race leader on the road.
After 50km of the hard chase, Artem regained the race lead as 2 groups came back together. However, the calm was only temporary, as attacks started once again till finally a group of 10 riders escaped to the finish. Artem and Mektel did most of chasing to limit the loss to 1:28.
The biggest beneficiary was Lukasz Owsian from Team CCC, he jumped from 18th to 2nd overall overtaking Dyball, just 28 seconds behind Artem. TSG breathed a temporary relief into the last stage of LTDL, but with 2 hard hills into the 2nd half of the 140km stage, race lead could change in the last 50km. TSG’s Malaysian trio worked hard again to control the peloton for the 1st half of the race.
On the last KOM, a small group with Lukasz managed to open a gap from Artem on the decent, but this time Mektel and Drew by his side in the chasing group. Both worked themselves to the ground and chased back the break into the Kuala Lumpur finishing circuit. Gardini made amazing effort to get over the climbs to take another stage victory at Dataran Merdeka. Artem crossed the finish line exhausted but super excited as history was made with TSG became the first Malaysia and East Asian team to win the prestige race after 23 years.
Tour of Thailand
UCI 2.1 TOUR RACE | Date: 1st April – 6th April
After last year’s team absence from the race, TSG was happy to be back to action in Tour of Thailand. 6 stages from Pattaya to Khon Kaen with one major climb on stage 3 at Khao Yai National Park. TSG’s 6 riders lead by LTDL winner Artem, Drew, Maral Erdene and 3 Malaysians Zamri (replacing Harrif due to illness), Amirull and Zulhilmie.
Stage 1 was a long 207 km stage, despite raining condition the pace was fast and furious averaging just under 48kph. The race came down to a bunch sprint but last km big crash took down Zulhilmie and nearly third of peloton, but Zamri was already at the front of the peloton and sprinted for 2nd place behind Kreder of Team Ukyo.
Stage 3, deciding stage for GC riders, 30k climb to the top of Khao Yai National Park. TSG breakaway specialist Maral was away early in the race, winning both intermediate KOMs before peloton finally caught up with breakaway group. Into the last 12 km, 3 riders broke away from the group of 29 riders, to no one’s surprise 3 men were the highest ranked riders fresh off Langkawi, Artem of TSG, Ben Dyball of St George and Thomas Lebas of Kinan Cycling Team.
The trio worked well together opening a 2-minute gap from the diminishing chase pack. But this time, the table turned from Langkawi it was Ben attacking first and soloed his way to take the stage victory and overall race lead. Artem followed just 12 seconds behind with Thomas at the toll.
Stage 4 was another sprinter stage, team captain Zamri once again delivered 2nd place finish behind Martin of Team Illuminate. For the next 2 stages, TSG worked to ensure keeping Artem’s GC position and completed successful campaign at Tour of Thailand with the 2nd overall in GC, three 2nd place stage finishes, 2nd and 5th in overall KOM classification, 4th in overall points classification as well in the team classification.
Tour de Lombok MANDALIKa
UCI 2.2 TOUR RACE | Date: 13th April – 15th April
5 riders – Metkel, Choon Huat, Amirul, Umardi and Shahrul from Malaysia represented TSG for this race on the scenic surrounding of Lombok Island just east of Bali. Stage 1 was a short 84.4km stage, the pace was fast from the start but 8 riders representing several major teams Ukyo, Sapura, Forca Amskins, UAE, Pgn, and TSG managed to break away from the peloton.
In the group of 8, TSG had 2 representatives Choon Huat and Metkel along with Ukyo’s 2 riders. 8 attackers worked well together and keeping 1 minute 20 seconds gap all the way to the finish. Into the last km, Choon Huat made a perfect lead out for Metkel to take the stage victory and overall race lead. Despite doing a bulk of the work in the break, Choon Huat still finished amazingly 3rd on the day, with 2 TSG riders on the podium it was best possible result for the team.
However, the race lead was by no means secured with next stage finishing on monstrous 1600 meters climb averaging 10% to Pusuk Sembalun. TSG with 2 riders sitting 1st and 3rd in the GC, the team was forced to work from KM 0 in the 172km stage. Attacks from every team came fast and furious, 5 TSG riders fought bravely but was unable to keep everyone at bay. Metkel did his best to finish 20th on the day and surrender his yellow leader jersey.
Stage 3 was a flat 110km stage, Umardi tried his best to break away but was brought back for bunch sprint won by Kuroeda of Aisan Racing Team. Despite losing the yellow jersey, it was a good experience for young Metkel as his first victory and leader jersey in UCI Asia circuit, we are confident he will have more victories to come soon.
With good results from Langkawi, Thailand, and Lombok, TSG moved up to 5th overall in UCI Asia Tour team ranking.
In May and June, TSG will be participating in following UCI Asia races
May 4 – May 6 Sri Lanka T-Cup (2.2)
May 20 – May 22 Tour de Filipinas (2.2)
May 30 – Jun 3 Tour de Korea (2.1)