THE MAGAZINE

Eastern Inscrutability: Security in the Saddle

By Robert Elliott

Anthony Charteau, a sylph-like racer sponsored by French bank Credit Agricole, won the 12th edition of the annual Le Tour de Langkawi bicycle race in Malaysia in February this year with a time of roughly 32.5 hours, besting a field of 137 riders. After the last rebana ubi giant drums had died down and before Charteau climbed the winner's podium alongside the Dataran Merdeka, the large square in the center of capital city Kuala Lumpur, master of ceremonies David Duffield publicly thanked the police force for its work in securing the race.

"It's amazing the numbers (of law enforcement authorities) they have on this race," Duffield, a long-time cycling announcer who covers major races such as the Tour de France for Eurosport, told Security Management after the Tour.

According to the race's security director, Mohd Khalil Bin Kadir Mohd, Le Tour de Langkawi is protected by 600 national policemen, 111 traffic controllers and communications support, 56 police motorcycles, three patrol cars, an ambulance, a team of doctors, and a group of 54 security officials, evenly divided between the start and the finish of the 10-day race. A helicopter hovers overtop the pack of riders from start to finish.

"We look for the security concept. It's about traffic management, crime, control of people, VIP protection, and above all, the safety of the riders," says Khalil Kadir, who is also an executive at the Malaysian National Cycling Federation.

Le Tour de Langkawi is known as a proving ground for cyclists to gain professional experience and move up the ladder to the bigger leagues. Controversial Tour de France winner Floyd Landis and reigning world champion Paolo Bettini both cut their teeth on the ten-stage course that winds from the island of Langkawi to the northwest of the Malay peninsula down to the final criterium in Kuala Lumpur. The 2007 race covers 1,377 kilometers (825 miles) through the humidity and exotic landscapes.

The riders are followed by a formidable convoy of 300 support and security vehicles and 100 motorcycles. To ensure open roads for the racers and their entourage, the authorities rely on a complete closure system where police block off the course from traffic about three hours before the riders arrive.

"The assumption is the road is clear. If some Charley comes out in a car, POW!" says Duffield. "We have had accidents in the past. All big cycling races have." In 2004 police officials mistakenly opened the way for public vehicles onto the race track while the first stage was still in progress. There were no reported injuries, but the stage was neutralized as a result with the blessing of the riders.

The police force assigned to Le Tour de Langkawi travels with the race and forms a cohesive unit throughout the competition. In contrast, the Tour de France relies on policemen from each local area to clear the roads and watch out for mishaps in their jurisdictions. And unlike in Britain, Le Tour de Langkawi's police force is paid by the government.

In other places races have had to be canceled in part because no group or governmental body was willing to bear the cost of the security forces needed. "You need that assistance, but it costs money. Some races we're having back in Britain are being stopped now because they can't afford to pay the police a lot of money to marshal the route," says Duffield. By contrast, the Malaysian government is happy to bear the cost.

The Malaysian national police are the vanguard of the race's security squad, but they also liaise with local officials along the winding route. Local police are enlisted in the effort, along with major fire and rescue departments, says Khalil Kadir.

Security personnel also coordinate with the national railway to make sure no riders are mowed down by an on-rushing train when the course crosses rail tracks in the north. "When the riders come here to race at this level, they expect the same sort of security they get when they are racing in Europe," says Duffield. "This is one of the top races in this part of the world, and therefore you expect the top facility in terms of safety."

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