KUALA LUMPUR - A big attraction at the teams’ presentation of Le Tour de Langkawi on March 7 on Malaysia’s Paradisiacal island will be the presence of first timers Team Sky. Born in 2010, the Manchester-based squad managed the incredible challenge of building the first British overall victory at the Tour de France in the region of five years, and not only one but two with Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013.
“For a couple of years, we’ve been considering taking part in Le Tour de Langkawi and finally, this time around, we’ve made it a reality”, said Team Sky’s head directeur sportif Nicolas Portal with a large smile. “Personally, this race is close to my heart since it was my first one as a professional with Ag2r in 2002. A few of us in the staff also have found memories of racing in Malaysia so we put on a good word to our coaches to decide on the race program.”
Assistant DS Markus Ljunqvist is no other than the Genting Highlands stage winner in 1999 and Gabriel Rasch who will direct the team here from March 8 to 15 discovered Asia when he took part in the Eagle Tour of Malaysia on the island of Langkawi in August 2002. So did Ireland’s Philip Deignan who is part of the line up for LTdL again.
“I’ve come to race in Malaysia a few times and I last rode Langkawi with Cervélo in 2009”, Deignan said. “I finished 11th that year but this time, I’m not going to target GC. I’ll be a support rider for our Colombian climber.” Ten years his junior, 21 year old Sebastian Henao has been designated Team Sky’s leader for the overall classification. A second year pro now, he came eighth in the queen stage of the Giro d’Italia, where his compatriot and eventual winner Nairo Quintana took the pink jersey last year.
“Sebastian is not such an explosive climber as his cousin Sergio”, Portal explained. “But he’s very strong in long climbs. He rode fantastically uphill in our pre season training camp so we wanted to give him a chance to express himself and race with the responsibilities of the team leadership. Genting Highlands suits him perfectly. Le Tour de Langkawi can be the stepping stone of his career.”
Henao will be guided in the bunch by Team Sky’s super domestique Danny Pate who has many Grand Tours under his belt, including last year’s Tour de France. “I rode the 2004 Le Tour de Langkawi with HealthNet and I’ve always wanted to come back”, the American said. “I’m glad we’re doing it this year.” Pate finished fourth in the conclusive stage of the Tour of Oman on February 22nd and flew directly to Malaysia after that to get acclimatized.
Team Sky’s sprinter Chris Sutton was assigned a very different itinerary. Having already raced in Australia (the Santos Tour Down Under in January) and the Middle East (Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman), he has the opening weekend of racing in Belgium on his schedule before Le Tour de Langkawi, which will be followed by another European campaign and the Tour of California in May, so he might well be the biggest traveler of professional cycling this year. LTdL is also not new to him as he rode in 2009 with Garmin and came twice second and once third in bunch sprint finishes.
Even though it’s Team Sky’s first participation, there’s already plenty of Langkawi experience in their ranks.
TEAM SKY THE 2015 LE TOUR DE LANGKAWI:
Sebastian HENAO (Col), Danny PATE (USA), Chris SUTTON (Aus), Philip DEIGNAN (Irl), Nathan EARLE (Aus) and Ian BOSWELL (USA)