Wong ready to ride into professional ranks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 12:00am

Wong Kam-po has decided to turn professional after the Olympic Games. The Asian Games road race champion will use the Olympics as a springboard to a career in professional racing and talks with world-class teams will be held in Sydney.

Turning professional has long been Wong's dream but he had kept his ambition on hold in order to represent Hong Kong at major races.

'It's time for a change. I want to expose myself to top races in other parts of the world. I have been to two Asian Games and I'll be competing in my second Olympics. I want to break into professional racing after that,' explained Wong.

The Hong Kong cycling sensation is looking beyond next month's Olympics because the 40-kilometre point race is not his strongest event. He failed to qualify for the road race in Sydney.

The 27-year-old star, however, says months of training in the velodrome for the points race has not been a waste of time as he believes that it will transform him into a better all-round rider when he returns to the road after the Olympics.

National coach Shen Jinkang said he would talk to some teams - whom he didn't identify - at the Olympics and hoped to secure a contract for Wong with one of them in Sydney. Shen said it would not be a big problem because some professional teams had approached Wong before when he competed in multi-stage tour events, such as January's Tour of Langkawi in Malaysia.

'I'll be able to attract more attention from them [pro teams] if I perform well in Sydney. But it doesn't matter if I don't do well because there are so many types of pro teams out there. I'm confident I can join one of them,' said Wong, who heads to Nanjing for his final Olympic buildup today.

Wong said he would prefer starting his professional career in the United States rather than Europe. 'It is easier to join an American team than a European one because the standard of racing is not as strong in the US. It will suit me more as a beginner in professional racing,' he said.

'It's likely that I'll be based in the US for their full racing season from February to August next year. I hope to try two years first and see how well I do. If I come up with good results, I may have the chance to race in some world-class tours.'

Wong remains confident that Hong Kong riders will continue improving even without his input. 'In the past few years, I've been compelled to stay because I wanted to fight for better results for Hong Kong,' he said. 'But Hong Kong are a much stronger team now and I think my move [to the US] will also set a precedent so that the young riders will be aware of what can be achieved if they work hard,' Wong said.

He also assured sports chiefs that his heart would remain in Hong Kong and that he would return to take part in major events, notably the Asian Games.

'I won't defend my title at the China National Games next year if I have the opportunity to race professionally, but I'll definitely defend my Asian Games title [in 2002]. It'll also be nice if Hong Kong can win the bid for the 2006 Asian Games and I can compete on home soil,' Wong said.

Although Wong admits he stands only a slim chance of winning a medal in Sydney next month, he has promised to give it his best shot.

'There will be less pressure on me because other cyclists won't consider me as a medal contender,' he said. 'They won't target me tactically. My training leading up to the Olympics hasn't been geared to winning a medal but anything can happen on the day. It's a one-off race which will last only about an hour.'

Wong's progress in the velodrome in the World Cup series over the past four months suggests he might have an outside chance of causing an upset. He finished 11th in his World Cup debut in Moscow in May, followed by a ninth-place finishes in Cali, Colombia, a week later, and he sprinted to fifth in Ipoh, Malaysia, last Sunday.