COFIDIS are banking on experience as they head for Malaysia as one of the frontrunners in the 26th PETRONAS Le Tour de Langkawi 2022 next week.

The French-based team are poised to add to their list of 19 victories this season, which include three general classifications wins, Classic races (7 wins) and stage wins (9) when they compete in the 8-day race which runs from 11 to 18 October.

Leading the French team’s challenge is 33-year-old Spanish general classification contender Ion Izagirre, who has 15 Grand Tours and 22 Classic races under his belt, over the course of his 12-year professional career with various teams. 

Izagirre, who had accumulated 16 career wins thus far, was placed 27th overall in the recent Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

The Ormaiztegi-born rider, who began his pro career with Spanish outfit Orbea Oreka in 2010, also had stints with Astana from 2019-2021apart from spending two seasons with Bahrain Merida (2017-2018) before switching to Movistar from 2014-2016. 

Izagirre’s reputation as one of the most experienced professional riders in Grand Tours, having participated in 8 Tour de France including three in a row in 2020, 2021 and 2022, three Giros and 4 Vueltas, surely make him as among the favourites when the LTdL 2022 gets underway in Kuala Pilah on Tuesday (October 11).

With a contract running until 2024, Izagirre, currently world-ranked 80th, will be eager to win in his maiden appearance, especially after clinching Stage 6 in the (2.UWT) Itzulia Basque County race in April. 

Izagirre’s other notable palmares include winning Stage 9 in Paris-Nice and Stage 20 victory in 2016 Tour de France. He also won Stage 6 of the Vuelta Espana 2020 and was placed 39th overall in this year’s Tour de France with Cofidis.

Cofidis are also banking on 36-year-old all-rounder Sander Armee, a former Team Qhubeka NextHash (2021) and a long-time pro with Lotto-Soudal (7 seasons since 2014).

The Belgian, who won a stage in the 2017 Vuelta and has raced in 10 Grand Tours since 2014, is Cofidis’ other strong contender for the general classifications, having participated in six Vuelta Espana, four Giros, and last month’s (2.Pro) Tour of Luxembourg, where he was placed sixth overall in the mountains competition.

Also among the team’s frontrunners is Ruben Fernandez, 31, an experienced pro who donned Movistar’s colours for five seasons before signing a four-year contract with Cofidis last year. 

His recent results include a creditable 7th placing in the one-day 198km (1.Pro) Giro dell’Emilia race early this month, a race which saw Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (world No.1) of UAE Team Emirates finishing second and Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde (currently world No.8) in fourth.

Cofidis are also sending early warnings to their sprint rivals with the inclusion of sprint and one-day race specialist and LTdL 2020 stage and sprints winner, Max Walscheid.

The lanky German was with NTT Pro cycling when he won Stage 3 of the 2020 LTdL (Temerloh-Kuala Lumpur) and Stage 8 in Langkawi.

Currently ranked world no.103, Walscheid, who placed third in the one-day (205km,1.Pro) Sparkassen Munsterland Giro early this week, has had creditable results in the last four years, and regularly placed in the top fives in various top races which include 63rd Grand Prix de Denain Porte du Hainat (1.Pro), 4th in Minerva Classic Brugge-De Panne 2022 (1.UWT), 2nd overall in 2022 Danilith Nokere Koerse (1.Pro) and 2nd  Stage 1 Tour Down Under 2019.

Walscheid’s top Classics achievements include 12th overall in the 2021 Paris Roubaix which was eventually won by Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain Victorious Team.

Italian Simone Consonni, 28, formerly with the UAE Team Emirates who won the one-day 1.1 race Classique Paris-Chauny last month, is another sprinter eyeing for stage wins in Malaysia. He has consistently placed himself in top three in Stage results of the Tour de France 2020, Tour Down Under and Giro d’Italia.

Meanwhile, ASTANA Qazaqstan are relying on 35-year-old Manuele Boaro’s experience to make an impact in this year’s edition.

Formerly with Tinkoff and Bahrain Merida Team, Boaro’s experience of riding in 11 Grand Tours provide hope for Astana to challenge some of the GC favourites.  Riding for Astana since 2019, Boaro has done three major Classics this year, including Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and Milan-San Remo.

His best results include winning Stage 1 (Team Time Trial) in the 2019 Vuelta Espana and Stage 5 Tour of Croatia 2018.

Yevgeniy Gidich the reigning Kazakh national and Asian champion will also be heavily relied upon due to his familiarity with the Asian racing scenes which include the UAE Tour, Tour of Thailand and Tour of Qinghai Lake.

Other notable riders include all-rounders Antonio Nibali and former Kazakh national champion Artyom Zakharov.

This year’s 26th PETRONAS LTdL 2022 starts with a 157.3km Stage 1 ride from Kuala Pilah to Kuala Lumpur before continuing with Stage 2 from Kuala Klawang to Raub (178.9km).

The gruelling climb up to Genting Highlands comes early on Stage 3 from Putrajaya (131.9km) followed by Stage 4 from Sabak Bernam to Meru Raya, Ipoh (137.9km), Stage 5 Kuala Kangsar to Kulim (172.0km), Stage 6 from Georgetown to Alor Setar (120.4km), another climb from Kuah to Gunung Raya (Stage 7, 90.8km) in Langkawi and ends with a 115.9km Langkawi Loop the final Stage 8.

The PETRONAS LTdL 2022 is set to be among the most editions in recent years following confirmation by six WorldTeam outfits — UAE Team Emirates (UAE), Cofidis (France), Lotto Soudal (Belgium), EF Education EasyPost (USA), Movistar (Spain) and Astana-Qazaqstan (Kazakhstan).

Four other ProTeam outfits, Drone Harper-Androni Giocattoli (Italy), Uno X-Pro Cycling (Norway), Alpecin-Deceuninck (Belgium) and Burgos-BH (Spain) will add more excitement and intense competition to the Tour.

Continental teams Terengganu Polygon Cycling Team and Team Sapura Cycling of Malaysia are among the front runners while the other entrants confirmed were Mula Cycling Team and Roojai Cycling Team of Indonesia, ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast (Australia), China Glory Continental Cycling Team (China), ProTouch (South Africa) and Kuwait Pro Cycling (Kuwait).

Regional teams slated for the Tour include Thailand Continental Team (Thailand), Team UKYO (Jepun), 7-Eleven Cliqq Air (Philippines) and the Malaysian National team.

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