KUALA TERENGGANU: The opening stage of Petronas Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) tomorrow is expected to be an action-packed affair as riders look to assert themselves in the various classifications.

Red jersey (mountains classification) defending champion Nur Aiman Zariff (Terengganu Polygon Cycling Team) is hoping to deliver a popular victory on home soil.

The 187.4 km first stage will start in Kerteh and end in Kuala Terengganu with a brace of category four climbs along the way at Jerangau and Sekayu.

“My goal is to work my way to the front and finish on the podium in the first stage. I will go all out,” said Aiman.

“It would mean a lot to be on the podium in our home state and it would be even better if I could wear the yellow jersey (general classification) after the first stage.

“Of course I would also like to defend my red jersey though I know it will not be easy.”I will have to take as many (mountains classification) points as possible in these early stages to stand a chance.”

Aiman, 25, became the first Malaysian to win the LTdL red jersey in 2020 and successfully defended it last year. The race was not held in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Malaysia national team rider Zawawi Azman, who is hoping to challenge for either the red jersey or the white jersey (Asian rider classification), has made it clear that he will also be going all out in the opening stage.

“I will be going full gas in the first stage which I know many people will say is akin to committing suicide,” said Zawawi.

“But I will be fresh and I believe that many of the foreign riders will still be adapting to the conditions in the first stage, so it will be a good opportunity.

“Getting a good result in the first stage will also give me a motivational boost for the rest of the tour.”

Zawawi was briefly left without a team following the demise of Team Sapura Cycling in June. He has since signed with Sapura’s successor Malaysia Professional Cycling (MPC).

The 29-year-old said he was approached by national team coach Yusof Nasir to lead the team and wants to repay the faith shown by the latter.

“I was without a team and had stopped cycling after Sapura closed. It was then when coach Yusof asked me if I was interested to ride for the national team in LTdL,” said Zawawi.

“He said he trusted my abilities which really meant a lot to me. He, however, made it clear that I would still have to go through a selection process just like everybody else. I agreed.

“I want to repay the faith he (Yusof) has shown in me by putting in some strong performances.”

Zawawi, who will be making his sixth appearance in LTdL, is the most experienced rider in the national team this year and will be captaining the side.