Veteran Wong ready to ride off in style

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 October, 2010, 12:00am

The stage is set for veteran Wong Kam-po to mount a final challenge at the Asian Games - 16 years after he first participated in the region's biggest multi-sports event in Hiroshima, Japan.

Now 37, Wong admits he cannot match the fitness of many of the up-and-coming youngsters on the Hong Kong team, but his exposure to and experience at the highest level are invaluable.

And at an event like the Asian Games, where one mistake in the 180km road race or the 30km points race on the track can cost a rider the gold medal, Wong is still the one to watch.

'We have some very promising riders who can beat me easily in some events, such as the road race time trial, as I am not young anymore,' said Wong, who has two Asian Games gold medals, both in the road race, and a world title from the scratch race at the 2007 World Track Championships.

'But this is not a bad thing as we need quality young riders to take up the baton sooner or later and I am sure these youngsters will shine at the 2014 Asian Games as they gain more exposure over the next couple of years. However, I think I can still achieve something next month in Guangzhou, which is likely to be my last appearance at the Asian Games.'

Wong said Choi Ki-ho and Cheung King-lok, both 19, would be the stars of the future, while 22-year-old Kwok Ho-ting, who won his first track World Cup Classic title two years ago, is already a force to be reckoned with at the international level.

Cheung swept to a staggering four gold medals at last year's Asian Junior Championships, including the time trial on the road and three track events - the scratch race, the 3km individual pursuit and the madison with Choi.

Choi, who recently completed a training camp at the International Cycling Union centre in Switzerland, came 34th in the road race at last month's World U-23 Championships in Melbourne - the best finish by an Asian rider.

The youngster won his first World Cup title earlier this year when he combined with Kwok to beat a group of top riders in the madison at the World Cup Classic in Beijing.

Despite lauding his fellow youngsters, Wong does not hide his ambition of standing on the top of the podium again, as he did at the 1998 Bangkok Games and the Doha Games four years ago.

'Of course, it would be great if I win another gold medal in Guangzhou. This is my target as leaving on a high note is always a nice thing,' said Wong, who is in Yunnan province for three weeks of high altitude training.

Hong Kong have entered 14 events in four disciplines in Guangzhou, including road race, track, mountain bike and BMX. Wong is likely to take part in the individual road race, the points race and the team pursuit.

'We have been doing quite well in the team pursuit recently and can come back with a bronze medal if we perform at our best and beat teams like Japan and Iran. China and South Korea are the two gold-medal favourites,' he said

'But team pursuit is not our top target, while the road race and points race are. Hong Kong are the defending champions in both events, which means we will become the target of all the other riders.'

Wong won the road race in Doha, while Cheung King-wai, the elder brother of Cheung King-lok, pulled off a major surprise with his victory in the 30km points race four years ago.

Cheung is unlikely to be able to defend his title in Guangzhou as his position is to be taken up by Kwok, who is a possible choice to join Wong in the road race. Only two riders from one team are allowed in an individual event.

Hong Kong coach Shen Jinkang said he had yet to make up his mind about the final selection for each event.

'Wong's experience is second to none in the Hong Kong team,' he said. 'This is pivotal in a major event like the Asian Games because the competition is so keen. Young riders are more likely to make mistakes under pressure, but Wong has the experience to handle these situations.

'He will be given priority also because the road race will be held on a flat course that will suit him. But I will wait until the result of the training camp in Yunnan before I make up my mind about the final squad.'

Yeung Ying-hon, a silver medallist in the road race at last December's East Asian Games, is another contender for the road race. The coach also has to consider riders for other events such as the individual team trial and the team and individual pursuits.

Shen's choices are more limited for the BMX, mountain bike and women's track events. Steven Wong, who won his fifth Asian Championships title in South Korea last week, will be the man to beat as BMX makes its Asian Games debut in Guangzhou.

In the mountain bike cross country, Chan Chun-hing, who won a silver medal at last year's National Games in Shandong and competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, will be gunning for his first Asian Games medal in Guangzhou.

'He [Chan] did not do very well at the recent Asian Championships, finishing a disappointing fifth,' said Shen. 'He has to work hard if he wants to win a medal at the Asian Games.'

In the women's track events, sprinter Lee Wai-sze, 23, is ranked number one in the world in four categories including the 500-metre time trial, sprint, keirin and team spirit.

She will face tough competition from Guo Shuang of China, an Olympic bronze medallist at the Beijing Games for which Lee failed to qualify.

'Lee is improving and is considered one of the best in track sprinting in Asia,' said the coach. 'Her time trial is very strong and she has a great medal chance.'