Le Tour De langkawi 2008 – CLERC JOINS HONDO AND LODDO IN THE BATTLE OF THE SPRINTERS

KUALA LUMPUR – Just when it started to look like an Alberto Loddo-Danilo Hondo showdown in the sun, French Pro Tour team Bouygues Telecom has upped the ante in Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) 2008 with the announcement of a team built around Swiss sprinter Aurelien Clerc.

The 27-year old Clerc has firmly established himself as a viable sprinter and classics rider with stage wins in the Tour of Picardy, Vuelta a Burgos, Clasica Alcobendas and the Circuit Franco-Belge.

Aurélien Clerc

He finished the 2007 season with second placed finishes in the Classic de l’Indre and Paris-Bourges, as well as a ninth place in the Paris-Tours.

It will be Bouygues Telecom’s second consecutive appearance in LTdL, after coming with their most famous rider Thomas Voeckler last year.

While they had a relatively quiet Tour last year, this time around the French team have entered a team that will be coming with nothing less than a total intention to win.

And unlike Pro Tour sprinters of the past, who been criticised for coming to LTdL as a warm-up, Clerc has stated LTdL as the first goal he has set for the new season, having warmed-up well, particularly showing some form with a ninth place finish in the final stage of the Tour Down Under in Australia, the first Pro Tour race of the season.

“I’ve done the Tour of Qatar as the first race of the season almost every year except in 2004 when I did the Tour Down Under for the first time. I usually did quite well in Qatar but I always returned to Europe totally cooked because the racing was too intense,” said Clerc on the sidelines of the Tour Down Under last week.

“I don’t like the tension and the wind in Qatar. I got sick of it. I knew the TDU would be a softer start and it was, but I have done it in preparation for my first goal of the 2008 season, which is LTdL. I’ve asked my team to line me up in Malaysia because I know this race features a lot of possible bunch sprints and I really want to win some of them.”

The script of final sprint trains lined up by the Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoliteam for Hondo and the Tinkoff Credit Systems team for their Italian sprinter Alberto Loddo, last year’s winner of five stages in LTdL, has now been rewritten with Bouygues Telecom set to line up Clerc, with an impressive train.

Young Frenchman Stef Clement has been set as Clerc’s main lead-out man, along with Guadaloupian rider Rony Martias, while the rest of Bouygues Telecom features Swiss climber Johan Tschopp and Matheiu Sprick set give the Colombians a run for their money when it comes to the Fraser’s Hill climb.

Clerc elaborated further his aims in his first appearance in LTdL, stating: “Every year I envy the sprinters who are lucky to go to Malaysia. The more I sprint, the better I am. With several sprints in a row, I can improve my results and my confidence. Travelling doesn’t bother me. I see it as a chance for a cyclist, so I’m happy to go Malaysia after racing in Australia with a trip back to Europe in the meantime.

“I finished my first season with Bouygues Telecom quite well last year. Winning brought me confidence and I want to have the same feeling with my team-mates at the beginning of 2008. LTdL is crucial for me before focusing on the classics.”

Despite his former team Mapei making waves in LTdL in its early years, Clerc, who turned pro with the Swiss Post team in 2001, then rode for Quickstep and Phonak before joining Bouygues Telecom in 2006, has never been to Malaysia.

But nevertheless, with his big targets and his appetite, he will be one of those to watch when Asia’s biggest race gets underway from February 9 to 17.

BOUYGUES TELECOM’S PROVISIONAL LINE UP FOR LTDL:

Mathieu Claude, Rony Martias, Mathieu Sprick (Fra), Aurélien Clerc, Johann Tschopp (Swi), Stef Clement (Ned).

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