Watch out for Gavazzi!

Kuala Lumpur – Le Tour de Langkawi has become famous in the world of cycling for the spectacular sprints that have concluded many stages since the inception of the race back in 1996. The 14th edition starting in Putrajaya on February 9th should be no exception in the history as the 120 men field features many top sprinters once again. The course is likely to generate up to five bunch sprint finishes.

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There will be new faces at the winners’ protocol since Ruben Bongiorno from Argentina is the only former sprint winner on the start list this year. The CSF rider last imposed himself at Le Tour de Langkawi in 2006 and didn’t show the best of himself since then, therefore he will be back in the role of the underdog while Mattia Gavazzi, Aurélien Clerc and Chris Sutton will be the hot favourites.

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Gavazzi is the new fast man brought to Malaysia by legendary team manager Gianni Savio of Diquigiovanni-Androni. Last week the Italian started his season with a win in stage 1 of the Tour of San Luis in Argentina. “He’s got a great capacity of acceleration in the finale”, Savio described. “Normally I would have lined up Alberto Loddo again at LTdL, but he was diagnosed with two kidney stones. He’s fine now but he couldn’t train properly, so Gavazzi is his replacement.” Loddo has been the most successful sprinter at Le Tour de Langkawi in the past two years with 6 stage wins, 5 in 2007 with Diquigiovanni, 1 in 2008 with Tinkoff prior to returning to Savio’s team.

Last year’s Milo green jersey winner Aurélien Clerc will be back in action after switching from Bouygues Telecom to Ag2r-La Mondiale. The Swiss rider stated that this time around he doesn’t want to be just the most regular sprinter for scoring points but he’d actually prefer to grab at least one stage win.

On paper, he’d be the strongest and most experienced of the sprinters participating to LTdL this year but in the absence of a true favourite the doors are widely open for an up-and-coming aggressive guy like Garmin’s Chris Sutton from Australia. Compared to the Europeans coming from the cold atmosphere, the Sydneysider has got the advantage of having trained under the Australian sun in the past few weeks.

This is also the case for Austrian René Haselbacher who lives in Cape Town, South Africa, and makes his return to LTdL with Vorarlberg-Corratec. He made ten top 5 in Malaysia in his three initial participations from 1999 to 2001. He’ll travel together with the South African national team whose sprinters are Nolan Hoffman and Christoff van Heerden.

Local sprinter Anuar Manan aims at his first stage win at LTdL with the help of his favourite lead out man Anuwar Haidar. He came 2nd in stage 3 last year and looks like the biggest chance for Malaysia to take a first stage win ever. Korean Park Sung Baek now riding for Japanese outfit Meitan-Hompo is another Asian cyclist targeting a major achievement during Asia’s biggest stage race.

The 2009 Le Tour de Langkawi will feature 20 teams from February 9 to 15, starting in Putrajaya, the home of Malaysian government, and finishing in the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur with the traditional criterium at Dataran Merdeka.

The Tour is organized by the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) with the support of the Malaysian Government via the Ministry of Youth and Sports and sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and Asian Cycling Confederation (ACC).

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