Cycling: First national cycling team for women

National road cyclist Serene Lee made her SEA Games debut in 2007, but it was for the basketball team that she donned national colours back then.

"I had a lot of old injuries like shin splints, and running would bring up the injuries again, so I could only ride my bike or swim," she told The Straits Times.

"I didn't really like to swim so I ended up riding my bike, and then I just fell into it.

"I like cycling; it gets me around."

Still, after playing basketball for eight years, it was only understandable that Lee, a former captain of the national youth basketball squad, would seek some element of teamwork in her new sport.

"For my first five or six years of cycling, it was more of a solo kind of sport where you trained alone because there weren't many girls in the squad," said the 28-year-old.

"And this year after the open selection trials were held, we had a lot more girls involved, and suddenly there was a bigger pool of girls to train with. So it became more of a team sport."

The Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF) held two open trials in May and October, which is why it now has a talented nine-strong women's road cycling team, said SCF head coach Adrian Ng.

Lee said she used to train with male cyclists and foreign cycling teams when she wanted a "team feeling", adding: "But now I can stop doing that; I can train and race with the Singaporean team and that's pretty good because I like the group of people who are in the team."

Referring to Lee and five-time SEA Games medallist Dinah Chan, Ng said: "It was always the two of them for the last couple of years.

"Now we have nine, so the girls will have to fight for the competition slot and nobody can be complacent."

The nine riders have been training together only since October, but their potential has Ng brimming with optimism.

Five of them - Lee, Sarah Tan, Jeynelle Lee, Wendy Yap and Luo Yiwei - were third in the team event of the Jelajah Wanita race in Malaysia, the squad's first international race.

The Oct 27-29 competition featured teams from Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, and Ng praised the "promising" result.

"Our female cyclists used to attend competitions with other club teams, never as a national team. It was the first time we had a national cycling team for women," said the 35-year-old.

"The other South-east Asian countries were quite shocked that we had a proper team, and a quite strong one at that."

Luo, Serene, Jeynelle and Michelle Ho will also seek to make an impact at the Jan 22 International Cup of Cycling for Health Marathon Challenge in Hong Kong.

Ng is confident they will fare well there.

"It's more for them to experience the race and get as much tactical experience as possible before the SEA Games," he added.

"We need to get them together as much as possible so that they bond and understand one another's riding styles, and from there we will choose the two riders who work best together for the SEA Games."

Only two spots are available for women cyclists in the SEA Games road cycling discipline.

Singapore won two cycling bronzes at the last Games here through Chan and Vincent Ang.

Serene, who cycled for Singapore at the 2011 and 2015 Games, is one of the more seasoned members in the squad.

But she insisted her experience does not necessarily tilt the balance in her favour.

"I'll be happy if the other girls are stronger than me and I have to work for it at the end of the day, if not we'll all never progress," said the Nanyang Technological University PhD student in exercise physiology. "So if there's someone better than me and she trains the hardest, then she should go."

Her team-mate Ho, who will be participating in her first competition in Hong Kong, agreed.

"It's an honour to represent the country when I'm so passionate about cycling," added the 34-year-old, a clinical coordinator at the National Heart Centre. "Of course if I get chosen, that's a bonus.

"But cycling is not an individual sport; you still need a team. So I think being able to contribute in a team is also very important."

This article was first published on Jan 14, 2017.
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