True to his pre-race favourite tag, NTT Pro Cycling's Maximillian Walscheid whetted his appetite for the PETRONAS Le Tour de Langkawi 2020 by winning a bunch sprint to take victory in the Resorts World Genting Criterium International in Kota Kinabalu today.
The 26-year old German edged Terengganu Inc-TSG Cycling Team's Harrif Saleh at the finish line at the Padang Merdeka to take victory in the 90km race held on a 5km circuit around Kota Kinabalu. Australia's Blake Quick of the St George Continental Cycling Team was third.
The peloton had earlier been split into two groups, which included some of the lanky Walschied's teammates and only grouped together for the bunch sprint two kilometres from the finish line, which makes the fact that Walscheid had his full lead-pout train gathered and at his disposal between then and the hammer almost unbelievable.
"My two lead-out men were a bit behind the peloton and I trusted that the two guys in front were probably the strongest in the group, so we had always worked hard and we played them well. Even when they came back from the breakaway they participated really well in the lead-out," said Walscheid, who stands at 1.99 metres and will be the tallest rider in the peloton when the 25th edition of LTdL flags off in Kuching tomorrow.
"We came here to collect some points, but it was good felling to finish the first race of the season with a victory here (in the Resorts World Genting Criterium International), even though it is not a UCI event. So, we want to continue in the coming days in the same way, but we will take each stage as its own race," said Walscheid.
Harrif, who will be Malaysia's main hope to register victories in the flat stages of LTdL, especially when the race moves to his home state of Terengganu for Stage 3 on Saturday, would have had his confidence boosted by how close he came to victory today.
"I told my team we want to take the win here today and I was confident. But in the final sprint I left it too late to jump as I was following the Bardiani train, but when we arrived at 200m to go I realised they were not going to be in the picture, so I jumped there and managed to close in but not enough for the win," said Harrif, 31.
The PETRONAS Le Tour de Langkawi 2020 entourage moves to Kuching for the start of the opening stage tomorrow, which sees a stage of the race held in East Malaysia for the first time since 1998.
The 96.2km stage in a loop around Kuching will be flagged off the the city's own Padang Merdeka, taking the peloton past the state's administrative centre of Petra Jaya, the Sarawak Stadium, the Demak Laut industrial area, Sejingkat and into a loop around Kampung Sungai Bako Jaya, before heading back to Padang Merdeka again via Sejingkat, Kuching Isthmus, Taman Bunga Teratai and the Spring Shopping Mall.
The 25th edition of LTdL begins in Kuching on February 7, before a transfer across the South China Sea to Kuala Terengganu for the second stage, which will then take the peloton across to the West Coast of the Peninsula. The race ends in Langkawi on February 14.
In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the race, Malaysian International Criterium race will take place in Kota Kinabalu on February 6 while the post-race Malaysian International Classic race around Langkawi will end the festivities on February 15.
Apart from actions on the roads, various community activities including fun rides, mini exhibitions and a mini concert will be held at the start and finish venues throughout the 8-day race. The Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority (FAMA) will also provide booths and food trucks selling agricultural products at selected venues which will be held for two days starting a day before the race.
The 10-day PETRONAS Le Tour de Langkawi 2020 is scheduled from 6 to 15 February 2020, covering a total distance of 1,114.9 km across eight states which include Sabah, Sarawak, Terengganu, Pahang, Selangor, Perak, Penang, Kedah and two Federal Territories; Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur.