It’s the day prior to Stage One of the Tour de Langkawi and the media is captivated by the teams presentation – literally, we’re captivated. We’ve been driven half an hour from our hotel, dropped at the roadside and will remain here until the sponsors get their worth of coverage. Fortunately, I couldn’t be happier.
Our media van sets off from the Concorde Hotel; at the back of a convoy that stretches impressively over the gradually-rising road’s distant horizon. All other traffic is blockaded for the entire 25km trip from Shah Alam to Kuala Lumpur’s Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) – impressive, given the multi-lane roads we’re traversing and the fact it’s morning peak hour. Roughly halfway we pass the Champion System team who, courtesy of local riders Anuar Manan and Adiq Othman, can ride in GPS-free bliss to the media conference. Heck, all team riders have to “kit up” and take their bikes anyway, so it makes sense to ride.
On arrival, as in past years, the pro’s went for a 20 minute “fun ride” with cycling enthusiasts from the public. LTdL organisers estimated 300 people turned up for this year’s ride; roughly 200 fewer participants than a similar event led by Alexandre Vinokourov two days prior. Meanwhile, dignitaries were treated to a small parade during their short walk to an open-sided tent, which stood on a grassy field opposite the presentation stage.
Following the obligatory dance troupe, Kazakhstan’s Astana team was the first to roll onto the stage. Interestingly, Vinokourov’s Specialized bike was the only one not equipped with aerobars. At first, this article’s author surmised ‘Vino’ had secretly stashed a full-blown TT rig for the following day’s prologue, but the race regulations only permit for a road bike with aero bars. Hey, go easy on the amateur.
Whether deliberately orchestrated or not, one of the sponsors – local auto manufacturer Proton, who according to the organiser has supplied 170 vehicles – seemed intent on stealing the show. As each team rolled onto the vast stage under sweltering (34°C) sun, a matching Proton team car wedged itself between the press gallery and the stage. Big deal, photographers can just stand up and shoot over the top of the car, right? Yes, unless there is a tent full of seated VIP’s behind, demanding that the media sit down so they (the VIP’s) can see. Talk about a rock and a hard place; at least the boys from Astana had a laugh about it.
Anyway, long presentation short, 21 other teams followed more or less the same routine as Vino’s light-blue brigade. Personally, from the perspective of a optimistic-of-Asia’s-future-as-a-procycling-region cycling fan, it was great to see so many Asian Continental teams; from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Iran – also not forgetting other nations like South Africa, represented by its MTN Qhubeka squad. It was also great to see (on a team shirt) one of the best double entendres so far this year.
At 20.3km, tomorrow’s Individual Time Trial should provide opportunities for rouleurs to establish a time gap that potentially can be held until the Genting Highlands stage next Wednesday. The first rider is scheduled to roll down the start-ramp at 09:00 local time (12:00 AEST | 01:00 GMT).
As a complete aside, I’d like to address a very serious issue raised by SBS’s Anthony Tan yesterday; an apparent lack of “real coffee” in Kuala Lumpur. Generally speaking, this is an issue across Asia – though I have found cafes gobsmackingly-exceptional to this generalization in the oddest places; such as Jeju Island off the south coast of South Korea – that threatens to blunt the creative juices of any caffeine-dependent scribe. I’m happy to report that espresso coffee was discovered during a brief pre-presentation detour this morning. It may not have been delivered via the exquisitely naked portafilter of a six-group Synesso, but it was serviceable.