Grooming riders for endurance races

Malaysian cyclists (from left) Mohammad Akmal Amrun, Amir Mustafa Rusli, Adiq Husainie Othman and Mohd Harrif Salleh in a file photo. The National Sports Council has teamed up with track head coach John Beasley to produce endurance riders on the track.

The track cycling programme is enjoying a lot of success with the sprint events (keirin, sprint) led by national cyclists Josiah Ng, Azizulhasni Awang and Fatehah Mustapa. However, there's another side of the track that is yet to be explored to its full potential by Malaysians.

Besides the sprint events, more than half of the track events are actually endurance events. Pursuits (both individual and team), scratch, points race, madison and omnium make up the other events on the track.

Malaysia is a force to be reckoned with in the sprint events, but admittedly, we are still lacking in endurance events.

Until today, our endurance riders are just making up the numbers at the World Cup and World Championships events. The only notable Asian country to have made a mark in endurance events thus far is Hong Kong. In 2011, Kwok Ho Ting won the scratch world title in Apeldoorn, Holland.

Realising there is a void, the National Sports Council (NSC) has teamed up with track head coach John Beasley to produce endurance riders on the track. Although it is not a new project and will take years before the endurance team can be counted on to land a medal in the World Cup or World Championships, it has to start somewhere.

"I really believe we have athletes who are ready to forge a strong culture of competitive track endurance cycling that will be able to mix it with the world's best in the coming years. It may be another four years before these athletes bring home some medals, but we will be competitive this year," said Beasley.

Last December, road cyclist Mohd Harrif Salleh of Terengganu Cycling went for a racing stint in Melbourne, in the velodrome.

Harrif is no stranger to the velodrome, though. In 2007 in Bangkok, he won the Asian Championships gold medal in the scratch race. He was also the winner of the event at the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia.

His recent trip to Melbourne for track racing was an indication that Beasley is cooking something up.

Beasley is in fact preparing a team for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games (in July) and the Incheon Asian Games in September.

"Our goal is to have a competitive team at the Commonwealth and Asian Games this year. Plus, qualification to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics starts this year and I believe we are capable of putting up a good challenge, especially in omnium," said Beasley.

Besides Harrif, Beasley is looking at the possibility of roping in other road riders such as Adiq Husainie Othman, Amir Mustafa Rusli and young guns like Hamdan Hamidun, Mohd Fairet Rusli, Mohd Fakhruddin Daud and Sofian Nabil Omar, who are products of the NSC.

The women's hope would be on Jupha Somnet, who won the omnium silver medal at the Japan Track Cup in January.

Adiq is no stranger to the velodrome as well. While racing as a junior, he grabbed a surprise bronze in the scratch race at the Junior Track World Championships in Moscow in 2009. He has since moved on to the road to race with professional teams.

Having road riders crossing over to compete in the velodrome and vice versa is not something peculiar in the sport.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics we saw Britain's Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky winning the individual pursuit gold medal. He later teamed up with another Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas, alongside Ed Clancy and Paul Manning to win the team pursuit gold.

Another example is Frenchman Bryan Coquard, who was the omnium silver medallist at the London Olympics. Coquard was a two-time stage winner of Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) last year.

At the other end of the spectrum, former kilometre, sprint and keirin world champion Theo Bos made the successful transition to the road from sprint events. He recently won four stages in LTdL.

The 22-year-old Adiq, who is now with Terengganu Cycling after two years on the road with pro continental team Champion System of Hong Kong, said his ambition this year is to feature in the Asian Games with the track team.

"It is something that I'm looking forward to. My decision to sign with Terengganu was very much influenced by the opportunity to feature in the Games. I might have problems competing (in the Asian Games) if I signed with other teams so I think it was the right decision to come back home," he said.

Guide to Track Events

Sprint: A contest of power between two competitors to the finish line. The best two riders will fight it out in the final after qualification via a timed 200m flying start.

Keirin: A Japanese phenomenon that has taken world cycling by storm. A maximum of seven riders do a mad dash to the finish for about 600-700m after following a pacing motorbike for the first 1,400m.

1km time trial/(500m for women): A standing start race against the clock.

Individual pursuit: Two riders start from the opposing sides of the velodrome and compete over 4km (3km for women). The rider with the fastest time or the one who catches his/her opponent wins.

Team pursuit: Similar to individual event, but contested with four (three for women) riders in a team.

Scratch: A simple race where the first to finish over 15km (10km for women) wins.

Points race: The final result is determined according to points gained during sprints (one sprint for every 10 laps) over 40km (25km for women).

Madison: Teams of two riders take part in this relay race. While one rider races, the other rests. Riders switch roles as they slingshot their partner into the race. The winners are determined via points gained during intermediate sprints.

Omnium: Much like the heptathlon in athletics, the omnium is a race of six events - the 200m flying lap, points race, elimination race, individual pursuit, scratch and the time trial. Points are awarded to riders in each race according to the finishing order. The winner is the rider with the lowest total.