All the top riders are here in Terengganu and are raring to go as the inaugural Tour of Peninsular (ToP) is set to flag off for the first stage which starts in Dungun tomorrow.
There is no shortage of talent in the general classification (GC) with riders such as Kinan Cycling Team’s Thomas Lebas, Taiyuan Miogee Cycling Team’s Jeroen Meijers and Team Sapura Cycling’s Christian Raileanu all in top form at the moment.
But with stages one and two set to finish in Kuala Terengganu and Chukai, the crowd favourites will no doubt be Terengganu Inc (TSG) duo Artem Ovechkin, who is also expected to be a contender in the GC, and sprinter Harrif Saleh.
“For me, the minimum is to finish among the top three or better but then there are also quite a few good riders here who have managed good results recently,” said Ovechkin, at pre-tour press conference here today.
“ToP is of course a very important race for us as it is the second race in Malaysia (after LTdL).
“Of course the fourth stage will be very important for me (in GC) but we also have some good stages for our sprinters.”
Ovechkin took the overall win at Le Tour de Langkawi last year.
Harrif is equally eager to stamp his mark on the tour but stressed that anything can happen, especially in the opening stage.
“ToP is a great platform for Malaysian riders to show their talent and competing in Terengganu definitely gives me added motivation to do well,” said Harrif.
“I think we are well prepared for the race, we achieved some good results in China and Indonesia recently and have good momentum.
“I am not quite sure who are the riders to look out for (among sprinters) at the moment, we will have to see how stage one plays out. There could be some new faces.”
Meijers, who won the Tour of China I last month, is expecting an open race in the GC.
“I think stage four will be the big day for the GC guys but from my experience racing in Asia this year, everyday there is the possibility of something strange happening,” said Meijers.
“We need to watch out on all the five stages if we are to have a chance of finishing at the top of the podium.”
Stage one tomorrow will cover a total distance of 180.6km starting from Dungun to Kuala Terengganu. The stage’s relatively flat profile should see it ending in a bunch sprint.
The fourth stage, which starts in Sungai Koyan and finishes high up in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands 89.5km, will be the queen stage of the tour.