KUALA TERENGGANU – It’s The gruelling mountain stage in Genting Highlands is where the race is won and lost, but for sprinters, the PETRONAS Le Tour de Langkawi 2023 offers them an equal chance to shine, offering the peloton’s fast men with six flat stages to clinch glory in Asia’s prestigious ProSeries race which starts in Kerteh, tomorrow.

Teams are bringing their strongest line-up of sprinters to Malaysia, gunning for stage wins in the six flat stages which begins with a 187.4km ride from Kerteh to Dataran Syahbandar, Kuala Terengganu.

Tomorrow’s explosive stage will be even more special for 35-year-old local star Mohd Hariff Saleh, as the Terengganu Polygon Cycling Team sprinter set his eyes on starting with a bang in his 14th LTdL participation, on home soil.

“Tomorrow’s stage is huge and important for me, as it marks my 14th year in LTdL. I have no worries about my current form, I feel good and hope to deliver the desired results tomorrow for the local fans,” said Harrif at PETRONAS LTdLs 2023 Riders’ Press Conference at the official hotel here.

Today’s pre-race press conference also featured three other notable sprinters, Tour of Taihu Lake overall winner George Jackson, Enrico Zanoncello of Green Project Bardiani-CSF-Fanzine and Tudor Cycling Team’s Arvid de Kleijn.

For George Jackson of Bolton Equities Black Spoke, winning the recent Tour of Taihu Lake was a big motivation to do well in the PETRONAS LTdL 2023. “We’re flying in from China with a good team, a good mix of sprinters and climbers…I’m hoping to do well in Malaysia,” said Jackson.

Enrico Zanoncello, in his first LTdL in the colours of Green Project-Bardiani-CSF-Fanzine, is determined to follow the footsteps of former team star Andrea Guardini who created great legacies of winning a record 24-stage wins throughout his seven-year campaign in LTdL.

“To achieve the same results as Guardini, definitely it would be impossible. But for LTdL 2023, I hope to win at least a stage, and we’ll see how it goes from there,” said Zanonchello, a former Cofidis rider who has a good record of racing in Asia. The Italian sprinter came in second overall behind Blake in the Tour of Taihu Lake (2.Pro) race, apart from winning a stage in the Tour of Qinghai Lake (2.Pro) in July.

This year’s LTDL 2023 could also see the rise of Dutch sprinter, Arvid de Kleijn of Tudor Cycling Team, who are making their debut in the race. The 29-year-old sprinter will surely come under scrutiny following his first major win in this year’s Milano-Torino (1. Pro) race, stage wins in the Deutschland Tour (2.Pro) and ZLM Tour (2.Pro).

De Kleijn has a huge reputation as a sprinter, having beaten the world’s top sprinters including Mark Cavendish. “This is my first time in LTdL, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about the race…I’m highly motivated to do well,” de Kleijn, fondly nicknamed Little Gorilla.

On the race route, the Dutchman admitted that the overall winner would be decided amongst the top climbers, with Genting Highlands as the decider.

“But overall, it’s a sprinter’s race as there are six stages which favour us…so it’s good for sprinters to make an impact. I’m pretty confident, but let’s start with one stage win first,” he said when asked about his target in the race.

Meanwhile, the battle for the PETRONAS Green Overall Winner’s jersey is set to sizzle with tough battles set as early as stage 3 (Jeli-Banting) before what could be the decider in Stage 5 (Slim River-Genting Highlands, Hors Category climb).

EF Education-EasyPosts’ Simor Carr who will be among the front runners in the mountain stages, did not hide his intention of winning in Genting, and at the same, redeeming the loss of compatriot Hugh McCarthy, last year in Genting.

Raised in the Pyrenees in the south of France, the 25-year-old Carr is regarded as one of the Tour’s serious GC and mountain contenders following his consistent performances and victories in this year’s Tour of the l’Alps and Tour de Occitanie. He has had some good results as a junior which opened the path for him to join EF Education-EasyPost in 2021 from Nippo Delko One Provence.

“We are here with a proven set of riders, with strong climbers like Alexander Jefferson Cepeda, Eiking Odd Christian, Michael Valgren and GC contender Christian van der Lee Jardi…but we will take things a step at a time and stage by stage before coming to any conclusion,” said Carr.

Meanwhile, Ecuadorian Harold Martin Lopez, in his second appearance here, hopes that his experience in the Tour last would help him improve on his standings and help Astana Qazaqstan Team in overall outcome.

“This time, we have a good balance of climbers and sprinters, with last year’s stage winner Gleb Syritsa as our best bet in the sprints. As for the mountains, we have Vadim Pronsky to rely on,” said Lopez, who is in his third year as a full pro with Astana.

Stage 1 starts from Mesra Mall in Kerteh on Saturday morning (11 a.m.), offering sprinters the best chance to be on the podium with three sprint zones and two category 4 climbs before finishing at Dataran Syahbandar here.

Themed ‘Beat The Heat’, PETRONAS Le Tour de Langkawi 2023 is organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports through the National Sports Council (NSC), in collaboration with the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF).

The 1,278.1km 8-stage race traverses through 11 states in the Peninsular, featuring 128 riders from 22 teams which include two WorldTeam outfits – Astana Qazaqstan and EF Education-EasyPost. The race ends on Sept 29 in front of PETRONAS Twin Tower on Sept 30.