Real coffee may be hard to find but Anthony Tan’s delighted to have touched down in Kuala Lumpur for his tenth Tour de Langkawi.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

I know this is going to blow your minds – call it a revelation, if you like – but even though I was born in Australia, I do not hold Anglo-Saxon heritage.

(You can get up from the floor now and upright your chair.)

Yes, my parents are Chinese immigrants – Dad's from Singapore, Mum is from China. When he was 17, my father came out to Oz on his Pat Malone with hardly a penny to his name, seeking a better life… I'm glad he found it (and my Mum).

It wasn't long before our family began making trips to Singapore to see his family, so he could rub it in that, against the odds, he had made it and they hadn't. And that he also had a beautiful wife and between them, bore a fetching pair of intellectually-gifted children. (Well, at least my sister was.)

While I didn't start drinking coffee till I was in my teens, using the beverage to keep my going through the night as I crammed for my high-school exams, I obviously knew what it was and how it was made well before then. Walking past a coffee shop in the morning, admiringly watching a talented barista at work and smelling the roasted beans ground then percolated into a delightful cup of caffeinated goodness still makes me smile no end.

For some reason I didn't notice this before, but landing in Singapore airport one year for another family trip to see the relatives, I heard the same sound. Or at least I thought I did.

Having taken my bags off the luggage carousel and walking with nuclear family in tow, I was surprised to hear the sound of coffee machines in action. Loads of them.

You see, unlike Australia or Europe, the people of south-east Asia are not known for their proclivity towards this dark-coloured brewed potion. Mostly, they think Starbucks serves the real deal, when it is really the McDonalds of cafes and bastardises everything that a good coffee should be.

It also seemed these people had a preference for 'il cappuccino', because among the many machines, I also heard the sound of milk being frothed accordingly. Still, I asked myself as we caught the elevator to street level to catch a cab, why was milk being frothed inside a lift? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

I then discovered the oesophageal truth: the cacophony of what I thought was coffee machines and milk being steamed was in fact people clearing their throats.

Now, whenever I travel to a country like Singapore or Malaysia with a Western colleague who has never been before, I first remind (warn?) them: you can get coffee here… but it ain't at the airport!

* * *

So here I am in Malaysia again, ready for my tenth tour of duty at the Tour de Langkawi, this region's most prestigious bike race. Lack of a quality brew aside, I'm excited at the prospect of what lies ahead for this seventeenth edition.

Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) has opted, after deciding his retirement at last year's Tour de France was a smidgeon premature, to make this his 2012 comeback race. Six former winners are also here including the past three champions РJos̩ Serpa (2009), Jos̩ Rujano (2010) and Jonathan Monsalve (2011), ominously, all riding for Androni Giocattoli.

The second WorldTour team here, Garmin-Barracuda, has sent a formidable line-up spearheaded by Tom Danielson, eighth in last year's TdF and Langkawi champ from 2003. The Coloradan will be ably assisted by last year's Herald Sun Tour champ, Nathan Haas, and idiosyncratic time trial specialist, David Zabriskie.

I'll also get my first peek at the Champion Systems team managed by long-time DS Ed Beamon, where Aaron Kemps will make his debut with the China-based squad. I also see Drapac-Porsche has sent a strong sextet; team manager Jonathan Breekveldt says he'll look towards Darren Lapthorne and Adam Semple to score a high GC placing when the race ends in Kuala Terengganu on March 4. Freedom will also be given to breakaway specialists Rhys Pollock and Floris Goesinnen, they say, the latter oh-so-close to nabbing a stage in last year's race.

There's a bunch of other Aussies, too – brothers Hilton and Jonathan Clarke and Karl Menzies (all United HealthCare), and Jai Crawford (RTS Racing Team) – making for a total 11 representatives from Down Under.

The 20.3-kilometre opening time trial in the administrative capital of Putrajaya should sort out the contenders from the pretenders but what will really separate the men from the boys will dawn on the sixth stage, a 108km journey from the enchanting Shah Alam mosque to Genting Highlands. Time and time again, top European-based pros have told me the unrelenting 17km monster is virtually unmatched in its severity and brutality – so we might as well refer to it as 'the Angliru of the East' right here, right now.

In total, the peloton will traverse a distance of 1415.5km over 10 days, all ridden in the stifling, irrepressible humidity of the tropics.

All we need now is a real coffee!



Twitter: @anthony_tan