Organisers working overtime to restore the glory days

(The Star) – The Tour of Langkawi (LTdL) organisers are doing their utmost to restore the prestige once enjoyed by the country’s premier cycling event.

The LTdL, the brainchild of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has suffered a dip in quality in recent years with few or none of the top tier teams from the International Cycling Union (UCI) taking part.

“The event has lacked the quality it once had and I was sorry when they scrapped Langkawi from the route,” Dr Mahathir said yesterday.

“The organisers got things right last year when the race returned to Langkawi after many years.”

The LTdL, which was launched in 1996, was accredited as a Hors category event for the first time in 2005 – the first Asian race to attain such status.

A Hors category race is the highest rated event in the UCI continental cycling calendar.

The LTdL then managed to attract some big-name riders from the top tier teams.

But the number of top teams slowly dwindled until only one, Footon-Servetto, made the trip in 2010 while none came last year.

Part of the reason could be the introduction of other events in the region, namely the Tour of Qatar (Hors category), which was inaugurated in 2002, and the Tour Down Under in Australia, which received a WorldTour status in 2008.

This year, the LTdL will see two top tier teams – Garmin-Barracuda and Astana – and the return of five former champions – Yonnatha Monsalve (defending champion); Jose Rujano (of team Androni Giocattoli, 2010), Tom Danielson (Garmin, 2003); Freddy Gonzalez (Azad University Cross, 2004); and Anthony Charteau (Europcar, 2007).

Dr Mahathir is clearly pleased with the turn of events although this year’s race, from Feb 24-March 4, will not take in Langkawi but head towards the east coast to finish in Kuala Terengganu.

“Getting the top teams back can only mean that the organisers are doing the right thing,” he said.

The LTdL will start with a 20.3km individual time trial in Putrajaya on Feb 24.