KUALA LUMPUR: The dust has settled after the conclusion of the 27th edition of Petronas Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) yesterday and with or without its namesake island, there is no doubting the fact that it remains the most romantic sporting event on the Malaysian calendar.
The UCI ProSeries tour started on the East Coast, highlighting the idyllic white sandy beaches of Terengganu before traversing the lush greenery of the Titiwangsa range via Hulu Kelantan and northern Perak.
The race progressed through the paddy fields of Baling and then headed south through the limestone hills of Ipoh, followed by stops in Pahang, Johor, Melaka, Negri Sembilan and Selangor before coming back to the capital.
In the end, it was Welshman Simon Carr — the first to crest the hilltop finish in Genting Highlands — who would be crowned the overall winner right in front of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
The EF Education-EasyPost rider was the first Briton to win the LTdL general classification (GC) and took home the green jersey.
The latter may have caused some confusion this year as the GC winner traditionally dons the yellow jersey, but it has been switched to green in recognition of title sponsors Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas).
Green was previously the colour worn by the winner of the sprinters classification (now orange).
Only two UCI WorldTeams — EF Education and Astana Qazaqstan — competed this year instead of the six that raced last season but that did not water down the level of competitiveness.
Being held in September for the second year in a row instead of its traditional dates in late February-early March saw the competition being fierce as teams battled for late-season ranking points and riders looked to impress their way to new contracts.
With the exception of the queen stage, all of the stages ended in a bunch sprint with the daily breakaways never being given too large of a gap.
This made it tougher for the two Malaysian teams — Terengganu Polygon Cycling Team (TSG) and the national team — to make an impact in the race.
TSG briefly took charge of the mountains classification (polka dot jersey) in the first two stages via defending champions Nur Aiman Zariff and Nur Amirull Fakhruddin Mazuki but were unable to hang on to it.
They also lost their white jersey (Asian riders classification), which Mongolian rider Jambaljamts Sainbayar had won last year.
The national team had the luxury of calling up four former Team Sapura Cycling riders this year following the closure of the latter in June.
Time trial specialist Nur Aiman Rosli did well to wear the white jersey for a stage, while sprinter Izzat Hilmi Abdul Halim claimed two top-five finishes.
From an organisational perspective, the National Sports Council (NSC) took over the job of organising the tour this year and it will continue for another two editions.
A low budget of RM8 million approved by the government saw Langkawi being dropped from the race route for the first time since 2018 as its inclusion would incur substantial additional costs due to the logistics involved.
With the exception of a van crash involving Giant Cycling Team (China) — all five involved escaped with minor injuries — the tour ran relatively smoothly and brought in RM7.8 million in sponsorship.
LTdL’s social media coverage, boosted by its partnership with the TikTok social media platform, also recorded healthy numbers in excess of 30 million views.
NSC made the right decision to bring in Emir Abdul Jalal as the race’s chief operating officer. Emir not only has the experience and credentials to run a race as big as LTdL, but also has the respect of those within the cycling industry.
It is not yet known whether the NSC will retain Emir for next season but the latter has made it clear he has big plans for LTdL.
“I am not sure yet (if I will be retained) but I am still keen on it because I have a dream of elevating LTdL to (UCI) WorldTour status one day,” said Emir yesterday.
“If we have more time to prepare for the race next year, we can find more sponsorship that will allow us to improve the race.
“With more sponsorship, we can bring in more WorldTour teams, perhaps four or five, and get better-quality riders.”
Emir added that it would not be impossible to upgrade LTdL to WorldTour status within the next five to 10 years.