ToP: Harrif ready to sprint in Terengganu

Last update: 14/10/2019

KUALA TERENGGANU, Oct 14 -- The first stage of the Tour of Peninsular (ToP) which will be flagged-off tomorrow will favour the sprinters such as Malaysia's Mohd Harrif Saleh.

On paper, the inaugural challenge of the International Cycling Union (UCI) 2.1 Asia Tour classified race with most of its routes being flat except for the 89.5 km stage four from Sungai Koyan to Cameron Highlands, where the riders have to encounter hilly terrain with a Category 1 climb at Ringlet and the Hors class climb towards Tanah Rata.

These would give the sprinters an advantage for the yellow jersey as the overall winner, as climbers would generally have a high chance of winning the title with the advantage of time from the climbing zone.

"This course gives the sprinters an advantage. With two early stages in Terengganu, I will definitely do my best and gain success in my home state," said the Terengganu Inc TSG Cycling Team (TSG) rider at a pre-race media conference, here today.

"But for the yellow jersey, it would be a bit difficult due to the climb at Cameron Highlands, I had to make sure that I would not be left behind from the peloton (the main group or pack of riders). It was an open competition and we could not expect who will be in control of the race. It is quite difficult to plan a strategy," said Mohd Harrif, who has tested the climbing route to Cameron Highlands five times.

The 31-year-old, who won the Second Stage of the Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) from Senawang to Melaka in April, said the participation of 18 continental teams from the 20 competing teams, gave a strong challenge to all riders.

The first stage of the race from Dungun to Kuala Terengganu (180.6 km) tomorrow had no climb zone but offers three sprint zones at Kuala Berang, Kelulut and Rusila, while the following stage from Pasarnita Tanjung, Kuala Terengganu to Chukai (157.4 km) on a flat coastal road has three sprint zone and a Category 4 (Cat4) climb at Kijal.

Stage 3 of the race starts at the Padang Majlis Perbandaran Kuantan, capturing a distance of 172.7 km to Karak and offers another relatively flat route featuring only one Cat4 climb at Sri Jaya and was followed by the Tour of Peninsular's queen stage which was rather a short distance of 89.5 km ride but on a knee-buckling journey towards the finish line at Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands.

The race final stage from Kuala Lipis to Setiawangsa (151.4 km) offers three intermediate sprints at Raub, Bentong and Gombak as well as a category 4 climb in Bentong and category 2 climb in Genting Sempah.

Meanwhile, his teammate Artem Ovechkin, who has been named as the yellow jersey contender for ToP, expects fierce competition from other riders despite the absence of the 2019 LTdL champion Benjamin Dyball of Team Sapura Cycling (TSC) as he's preparing for the Japan Cup race.

"Although Dyball is not around, there are other riders from TSC (Jesse Ewart, Marcus Culey, Cristian Raileanu), Thomas Lebas (Kinan Cycling Team) and Jeroen Meijers (Taiyuan Miogee Cycling Team) would give tough competition. However, our team’s motivation is very high and this is a very important race for us," said the Russian rider, who won the 2018 LTdL race.

As for Malaysian national team rider, Sofian Nabil Omar Mohd Bakri, ToP has become an important competition for him in preparation for the Philippines SEA Games later this year.

"We are grateful that there's another big race in Malaysia after LTdL as the national team has less international competition exposure compared to riders from TSG and TSC. Our preparation went smoothly after returning from a week of training camp in Cameron Highlands.

"Our target is to finish the race in top 10 overall teams classification as well as the best Asian teams, after finishing the LTdL race as the second-best Asian team," said the 26-year-old rider.