Wed, 22 Jan 2003

Tonton aiming for second Asian title at Langkawi

Musthofid, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

National star cyclist Tonton Susanto is determined to further extend his domination of the Asian division in the 2003 Tour de Langkawi, starting at the end of this month in Malaysia.

"I want to defend my title. I will also try to improve my position in the overall classification by reaching the top ten," the 30-year-old cyclist, who wears the flag of Telekom Malaysia during the tournament, told The Jakarta Post here on Tuesday.

Tonton, who first took part in the tour in 1997, earned his first title last year, during which his team -- Telekom Malaysia -- also secured its second title as Asia's champion team after it snagged the same title in 2001.

He skipped the 1999 and 2000 races before rejoining the competition in 2001, in which he took fourth place.

Despite controlling the race over his Asian rivals, Tonton, and Asian riders in general, have yet to be able to match strong European and American competitors in the overall classification.

At the 2002 Tour, Tonton ended up in 15th place in the overall classification, while top honors went to Colombia's Hernan Dario Munoz with Italy's Mapei-Quickstep taking the team's championship.

However, last year saw the Indonesian's top performance given his previous appearances, in which he fell outside 20. And he looks to be reveling in the challenge.

"I feel more well-prepared for this competition. I have trained in Yogyakarta for three months. That's an ample amount of time," he said.

Yogyakarta has been the training site for national riders in their preparation for international tournaments.

The West Java-based rider is scheduled to leave for Malaysia on Wednesday and it turns out that he will be the sole Indonesian competitor after his fellow countrymen failed in the qualifications for the 2002 race.

Tonton has braced himself for tough competition from 2002 runner-up Shinichi Fukushima of Japan along with Telekom teammates Wong Kam Po of Hong Kong and Ghader Mizbani of Iran. Kam Po and Mizbani last year came in third and fourth places, respectively.

Tournament website announced that a total of 154 riders representing 22 teams were expected to be featured in the eighth edition of the Tour de Langkawi, which will run from Jan. 31 through Feb. 9.

The race incorporates 10 stages and covers a distance of 1,343 kilometers.

This year will see Tonton's last partnership with Telekom Malaysia and he said that he was set to sign a one-year deal with the Taiwan-based club GiantART beginning in March.

The new partnership, Tonton said, would prompt him to take European trips more frequently to participate in a number of high-rated tournaments.