SEMPORNA – THERE is no clear picture as to who the possible winner of the inaugural Tour of Borneo will be when 19 teams are flagged off for Stage One from Semporna to Tawau in Sabah tomorrow.
There may be favourites among the sprinters with the Terengganu Cycling Team hoping to bring some cheer to the local fans with sprinter Harrif Salleh set to light up the bunch sprints. He will face a stiff challenge from Genesys Wealth Advisers’ Australian rider Anthony Giacoppo, the winner of two stages in the Tour of Taiwan last month.
There will also be an expected challenge should the stages be decided in bunch sprints from OCBC Singapore’s Ahmad Haidar Anuawar, who is eager to recapture his form after taking a year off from cycling to focus on his family matters.
But the battle will get interesting when the race goes uphill with a whole array of prospects all looking good to fork out a challenge.
Two 40-year olds will lead the charge in that department, beginning with Indonesian team Putra Perjuangan’s Tonton Susanto, a veteran who has been one of Asia’s top climbers for most of his career. Tonton will be looking to add to his 2007 Jelajah Malaysia overall victory and his three Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) Asian riders’ classification victories when he starts the race tomorrow.
Germany’s Timo Scholz of the CCN Cycling Team is the other veteran who could spring a surprise. He comes fresh from a third overall finish in the Tour of the Philippines just a week ago.
The focus of the climbers will be on the penultimate stage from Sepilok to Kundasang, at the foot of Mount Kinabalu, where undoubtedly the battle for the overall victory will be decided.
The race will also feature eight other teams apart from Harrif’s Terengganu Cycling Team, with Kuala Lumpur featuring an experienced line-up of seasoned riders who could do some damage in the race for the overall title.
Kuala Lumpur lines up national riders Ahmad Fallanie Ali, Wan Mohd Najmee Wan Mohamed and Ng Yong Li, who will be backed by youngsters Hoh Jin Cheng and Mohd Nazri Mohamed. They will start as darkhorses with the possibility of some surprises.
All 19 teams were presented at Seafest Hotel Semporna and attended by Penyuki Matta – Sabah Youth and Sports Ministry Deputy Permanent Secretary, Dato’ Fredie Sua – ToB Organising Chairman, Maniam Manikkam – ToB Technical Director and Datuk James Ligunjang – ToB Chief Executive Officer.
The 2.2 category Tour is sanctioned by the International Cycling Union (UCI) and is listed in UCI Asian Tour calendar, it is hoped to promote Sabah as the ultimate sports tourism destination in Malaysia, and promote cycling in the state.
Tour of Borneo covers a total distance of 758.4 kilometer, will start from Semporna and will pass through pictureque locations of Tawau, Lahad Datu, Sandakan, Sepilok, Kundasang and ends in Kota Kinabalu. 20 professional teams consisting of continental, national and club teams have confirmed their participation and will be accompanied by over 520 race officials.
In addition to a challenging route, Tour of Borneo will also held at a time of various festivals held in Sabah such as Regatta Lepa Lepa, Sabah Fest, Borneo International Marathon and Kadazan Harvest Festival celebrations which kicks off on 1st May, providing an opportunity for fans from within and outside the country to experience the joy of a holiday in the state.
Tour of Borneo is monitored by UCI President Commissaire from New Zealand, Zac Prendergast. The organizer’s main objective is to promote interest in cycling among the younger generations in Sabah, and expose Malaysian riders to more international level competition, thus contributing to the development of cycling in Malaysia.