KUALA LUMPUR: Armed with his “strongest ever team”, national road cycling coach Yusof Nasir is eager to see his charges launch an assault on the white jersey (Asian riders classification) at Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL), which starts on Saturday.
The closure of Team Sapura Cycling in June has allowed him to rope in Zawawi Azman, Nur Aiman Rosli, Muhsin Al Redha Misbah and Shaiful Adlan Shukri to the national squad this year.
The other two riders in the team are Izzat Hilmi Halil and Zulhelmi Zainal.
Sapura was forced to close down after failing to secure new sponsorship.
Yusof believes the national team is well prepared and will be looking to stamp their mark on the race.
“I think this is the best team I have assembled for LTdL as the national coach,” said Yusof during a press conference in Bukit Jalil today.
“We selected Zawawi as the team captain, and he will also be our lead rider for the general and Asian classifications. This is because he has proven that he can climb well and is also in good form.We have had a good few months to prepare and have been able to get some good mileage in the legs.
“Our goal this year is to fight for the white jersey, and to do that, we have to do well on the hilly stages. We also have Aiman, who is a time trial specialist, but can also climb well. He is our super-domestique.
“I can’t promise that we will win the white jersey, but I can promise that we will be competitive this year. The boys really want it.”
Yusof listed stage three (Jeli-Baling) and stage five (Slim River-Genting Highlands) as the two key stages for the team in the fight for the white jersey.
Zawawi, 29, is by far the most experienced rider in the team and has finished on the podium in a number of UCI races. He will be making his sixth appearance in LTdL this year.
Aiman won his fourth consecutive national time trial title in July.
Adiq Husainie Othman is the only Malaysian rider that has won the LTdL white jersey (2016) in the history of the competition.
Yusof said he will be banking on Izzat, who was on the books at Sapura from 2017-2019, and Zulhelmi to fight for the podium during the flatter stages.
“Izzat will be our main sprinter, he has achieved some top-10 finishes in LTdL stages before, so he definitely has the experience,” added Yusof.
“Zulhelmi is an up-and-coming sprinter and has shown encouraging results recently.
“What is important is that these riders be brave and not be scared of the riders from the bigger teams. A number of them have not raced in LTdL before, so this is their chance to shine.”
Aiman, Zulhelmi and Muhsin will be making their LTdL debuts this year.
Astana Qazaqstan and EF Education-EasyPost are the only two UCI WorldTeams competing in LTdL this year.
The first stage on Saturday will start in Kerteh and end in Kuala Terengganu, covering a total distance of 187.4km.