KUALA LUMPUR: South Africa's NTT Pro Cycling are the first UCI World Tour team to confirm their participation in the Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) 2020 on Feb 6-15.
However, the 25th edition of the race will not feature defending champion Benjamin Dyball as NTT Pro Cycling have not named the Australian in their provisional six-man squad led by Louis Meintjes.
Instead, NTT Pro Cycling will have Meintjes who, with an impressive palmares of general classification achievements in the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, will be among the favourites for the title, backed by a young squad of promising riders.
Meintjes, 27, finished eighth in the general classification at the Tour de France in 2016 and 2017, with a 10th place in the Vuelta a Espana in 2015 and seventh spot in the Olympic Games road race in 2016 ranking high among his achievements.
But the South African enters LTdL on the back of a lukewarm 2019 season with a third place in his National Championships time trial as the highlight of his year.
He comes to Malaysia with what should be a rare opportunity to go for the results himself, making Meintjes among the main protagonists for the overall title when he takes the start line in Kuching on Feb 6.
NTT Pro Cycling will also feature 30-year old Japanese national champion Shotaro Iribe, who will be making his UCI World Tour debut this season, having spent the earlier part of his career in the UCI Asia Tour with the Shimano Racing Team.
Australian Dylan Sunderland, 23, will be looking to make an impact in his second year with the team.
He is the nephew of former professional Scott Sunderland, who was among the few Australians riding the big European races in the 90s.
The 24-year old Dane Michael Carbel will also be making his debut with the team, having signed from Danish UCI Continental Team Waoo.
For the sprints, NTT Pro Cycling will be banking on 26-year old German Max Walscheid, who enters the season on the back of a 2019 campaign that saw him step onto the podium 11 times.
Italian Samuele Battistella is the other squad member.
Going by history, the team for which LTdL holds a special place, having made their debut in the race as a professional team in 2011 then known as MTN-Qhubeka and then as Dimension Data, they have three previous overall victories through Algeria's Youcef Reguigui in 2015, Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg in 2016 and Ryan Gibbons in 2017, meaning they always come to Malaysia with big intentions.
This year's race will open with a team presentation ceremony in Kota Kinabalu on Feb 5, before Stage 1 begins in Kuching two days later and ends with Stage 8 in Langkawi, covering a distance of 1095.7km across nine states.
In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the race, Human Voyage will also be hosting the International Criterium race in Kota Kinabalu on Feb 6 and the Malaysian Classic on Langkawi Island on Feb 15.
By New Straits Times - January 25, 2020 @ 5:15pm