PETALING JAYA: WorldTeam outfits Astana Qazaqstan and EF Education-EasyPost will be out to surpass their performance of the previous year in the upcoming Petronas Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL), but it will be an uphill task for them.

The eight-stage race kicks off on Sept 23 in Terengganu, featuring a flat 187.4km race from Kerteh to Kuala Terengganu.

The nature of the route adds an extra layer of complexity, making it harder to make a straightforward prediction about who will emerge as the champions, especially with two challenging stages – Stage 3 from Jeli to Baling and Stage 5 from Slim River to Genting Highlands – which have the potential to significantly impact and determine the overall race outcome.

Based on the line-ups of Astana and EF Education, it is evident that these rival teams are pursuing distinct strategies to ensure they don’t leave the tour without any achievements.

Astana appear to be prioritising stage victories, fielding a line-up comprising strong sprinters like stage winner Gleb Syritsa, who is in his first year as a full professional rider, while EF Education assembled a squad full of climbers and are gunning for bigger rewards – the General Classification (Petronas overall champion jersey) and also the overall team titles.

It will be challenging for both teams as they will face stiff competition from other ProTeam and Continental outfits, which are highly capable of succeeding in both flat terrains and highland stages.

EF Education will be banking on their strong climbing talent with British-born Simon Carr and Ecuadorian Jeferson Cepeda Ortiz to dominate the mountain stages while Astana will be relying on their top sprinter and Stage 1 defending champion Syritsa along with Martin Laas to pursue stage victories.

This year, the competition in mountain stages, especially the queen stage in Genting Highlands, is anticipated to be more intense with the presence of several Italian and South American climbers in the fray – Euskaltel-Euskadi’s team of six climbers led by Mikel Iturria and Mikel Bizkarra; Caj-Rural-Seguros RGA’s Eduard Prades Reverter and Calum Johnston as well as the quartet climbers from Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizane led by Davide Gabburo, who had turned in a strong performance at last year’s Giro d’Italia.

In the sprint category, Astana will face formidable challenge from some of the peloton’s renowned fast riders – Team Corratec-Selle Italia’s Attilio Viviani, Adam De Vos of Human Powered Health and even local hero Harrif Saleh of Terengganu Polygon Cycling Team and Dutchman Raymond Kredder of JCL Team Ukyo.

LTdL chief operating officer Emir Abdul Jalal acknowledged the challenge of forecasting the results of the annual cycling tour and this year is no different.

“There are a lot of factors to be considered,” said Emir.

“Strategies and race plans could go haywire during race week as it all depends on the riders themselves, their fitness as well as race incidents which could happen anytime.

“The advantages are with teams and riders who have tasted action in Malaysia in the past.”

– The Star