Podium finish a boost to Wong's pro hopes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 February, 2002, 12:00am

Wong Kam-po found his way back to the podium at the Tour of Langkawi when he finished third in yesterday's fifth stage.

Wong, who triumphed in a mountain stage in his Tour debut two years ago and came third in the same stage last year, showed his past results were no fluke as he was the only non-professional rider to finish in the top 10 in yesterday's 129.70-kilometre race from Bangi to Melaka.

'I sprinted better than in the previous stage. I began to sprint when there was still 500 metres to go in stage four and ran out of steam. Today, I decided to sprint when there was 150 metres to go and it worked better for me,' said the Asian Games champion, who worked his way up the standings after a poor show in the opening stage.

Wong was close to his first podium finish of this year's event on Monday when he raced well on his favourite mountain terrain in stage four - the first mountain stage of the Tour - before sprinting to fifth.

He added: 'But I still lack the speed in the final sprint against the top riders. I'm not as good as them when it comes to explosive ability. But I'm sure I can improve.'

While he was outsprinted by Mapei Quick-Step's Robert Hunter and Antonio Salomone of team Alexia Alluminio in yesterday's race, his efforts took him 11 places up to 28th overall. Hunter, who captured his third stage win in two hours, 48 minutes and 58 seconds, still leads the 140-strong field, with Wong five minutes and eight seconds behind.

The most significant implication of yesterday's effort for Wong was that it could pave the way for his possible signing with a professional team - a goal he aspired to before the Tour began.

'I want to ride for a professional team in Europe. The faces I've seen in Asia have become so familiar to me. I believe this year the door to professional cycling will open for me,' said Wong.

He hopes negotiations with professional teams will take place after the 10-stage Tour ends on Sunday. 'I hope to do well in the mountain stages and attract the attention of pro teams. Hopefully, some of them will appreciate what I'm capable of doing and make me an offer,' he said.

He is determined to add more podium finishes in the next few stages, which will be raced on flat ground. The next mountain stage will be the gruelling climb up the Genting Highland on Saturday.

'There are likely to be more blanket finishes and the difference of timing between riders wouldn't be significant, but I'll try to break away and sprint for a higher position in the coming races.'

Wong's hope of defending his best Asian rider title was revived after most of his rivals fared poorly in yesterday's test. He improved from 16th to second place, two minutes and 12 seconds behind Malaysian Telecom teammate Tonton Susanto of Indonesia, in the category.

Wong, 28, turned down an offer from professional team Selle Italia-Pacific last year, putting loyalty to the Hong Kong national team ahead of personal glory as he successfully defended his All-China Games road race title in November.

Hong Kong coach Shen Jinkang agreed that a rider like Wong should not be content with simply being the best endurance racer in Asia and gave his backing to Wong turning pro.