Kuala Lumpur: His fourth straight presence in Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) 2008 already makes promising Malaysian Ng Yong Li stand out in the crowd of world class riders, as he has never competed in the race with the same team twice.


Having made his debut in Asia’s biggest cycling event with the Proton T-Bikes team in 2005, the rider from Batu Pahat made a return with composite team Equipe Asia in 2006.

In the 12th edition of the race last year, Yong Li was riding historically as Malaysia’s first ever professional cyclist with Portuguese team Vitoria-ASC.

This time around, he has signed for the Japanese Meitan-Hompo GDR, and believes he has a team that shares the same dream and ironically the same target – of earning a ride in the Tour de France by 2010.

The team features two of only three Asian stage winners in LTdL’s history in brothers Shinichi and Koji Fukushima. But as the sole climber in all of the 12 riders in the team’s roster for the 2007-2008 season, Yong Li has a bigger responsibility.


Picture: Koji Fukushima

Known for his climbing ability, Yong Li almost secured a top 10 finish in the Cameron Highlands stage last year, having been positioned sixth in the penultimate climb leading to the finish.

A crash in the final three kilometres not only ruined his chances in that stage, in put him out of contention for the Asian riders’ jersey.

Meitan-Hompo GDR is currently based at their regular pre-season training camp in Chiang Rai, Thailand and will be flying to Malaysia only shortly before the start of LTdL 2008 in Alor Star, Kedah on February 9.

The month spent there has given Yong Li the chance to get to know his new team, although he has raced against them on a number of occasions before.

“I’ve been told by the team manager Akira Asada that I’ve got a bigger responsibility with this team, not just in LTdL, but more importantly in the European calendar, where we’ll spend most of our time this year,” said 22-year old Yong Li.

“As I’m the only climber in the whole team, my plans will be for the mountain top finishes. What is more important is the team and I share the same aspirations. My target since I went to Europe in 2005, was to make it to the Tour de France by 2010. This team wants to be the first Asian team to do so in 2010, so we’ve gelled right from the beginning,” added Yong Li, who started his career in the European peloton with Spanish team Wurth-Liberty Seguros in 2005.

“The first plan is to move up from continental to profesional continental team and the management are working hard on that. Once we’ve done that, we will earn some wildcard entries into Pro Tour races, then establish ourselves from there. So, since LTdL will be the first race of the year for me, I’ll probably be heading there with 80 percent form and build up for the rest of the year from there.”

This team, apart from Giant Asia, are the Asian teams never to be discounted in LTdL as they have proven twice that they are capable of winning stages – Koji did it in the Grik to Tanah Merah stage in 2005 and Shinichi in Stage Seven of the LTdL from Kuantan to Karak last year.

Koji is undoubtedly among the most popular riders each time he makes his way to LTdL. Playing the harmonica for fans and dishing out a few words of Bahasa Malaysia along the way are just part of his repertoire, marked mainly by his neverending eagerness to breakaway during the race.

They also come this year with a proven time-trialist in Thailand’s Sea Games individual time trial gold medal winner Prajak Mahawong, while Japan’s Takashi Miyazawa will again be the fast man the team counts on in bunch sprint finishes.

Taiwan’s Wang Kyi is expected to make his debut in LTdL with the team and at just 19-years old, is expected to be the youngest rider in the field this year. Shinichi at 36-years old, is likely to be one of the oldest.

Equipe Asada (provisional line-up): Shinichi Fukushima (Jap), Koji Fukushima (Jap), Ng Yong Li (Mas), Prajak Mahawong (Tha), Takashi Miyazawa (Jap), Wang Kyi (Tai).

Meanwhile, a total of 25 teams will grace the 13th edition of the prestigious LTdL. With the increased participation and the return of the Pro Tour teams, combined with the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, who are the main organizers for the event next year, the LTdL 2008 is set to be the best ever since its inception in 1996.

The Tour is also sanctioned by the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF), the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the Asian Cycling Confederation.

One of the major differences in the forthcoming Tour is the idea of taking it closer to the people. To achieve this, more events will be organised on the ground which means more carnival-like activities at all start and finish venues. One of the side events to be included will be cycling clinics.

One of the priorities for the Tour next year is to promote cycling at the grass root level. This will be done via the Rukun Tetangga and Kampung Baru programmes. One of the other key messages will be to encourage more Malaysians to take up cycling as a means to a healthier lifestyle.

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