Choi's Olympic dream still in doubt
Youngster Choi Ki-ho lived up to expectations when clinching the Hong Kong road race title in Tai Po yesterday, but his dream of taking part in the London Olympic Games remains uncertain.
Over 100 top riders took part in the 105-kilometre race along Bride's Pool Road in Tai Mei Tuk Country Park, including veteran Wong Kam-po and reigning world scratch champion Kwok Ho-ting, as they sought to grab Olympic qualifying points.
But it was Choi, winner of the Tour of Korea in April, who proved his status as the leading domestic road race rider, the 20-year-old finishing the hilly course in two hours, 41 minutes and 29 seconds.
Yeung Ying-hon, the East Asian Games silver medallist in 2009, was seven seconds behind in second place, while Wong, racing for the first time in two months after a collar bone injury, was third in 2.41.40.
'I like the road race very much and want to compete in the London Olympic Games,' said Choi, who was also the top finisher from Asia at last year's World Under-23 Championship in Australia.
'But we face a tough task as our national rankings fall behind our Asian counterparts and there are not too many races left before the qualifiers end in September.'
Choi and his teammates will leave for the Tour of Qinghai Lake on the mainland tomorrow. 'It's a top-class event in Asia with extreme conditions of racing at high altitude. Even though the race won't start until July, we have to get there early for acclimatisation because we need to be at our best if we want to score points,' said Choi.
Hong Kong are seventh on the Asia Tour rankings, but only the top four nations are eligible to send riders to London. However, individual athletes from countries outside the top four also have a chance to go if they finish in the top 10 of the individual rankings, under special provisions by the international cycling body.
Hong Kong grabbed 125 Asia Tour ranking points from yesterday's race, with Choi taking the bulk of them - 40 - for his victory. That could see them break into the top four, at least temporarily. This improvement in their ranking would mean little if rival countries also staged their own national championships and awarded an equal number of qualifying points to their riders.
Wong, who broke away with Choi and other Hong Kong team members from the peloton in the early stages of the race, admitted he was still struggling to regain his best form.
'I am only about 70 to 80 per cent fit,' said Wong. 'I didn't do too much when sprinting. The Tour of Qinghai Lake will be a good opportunity for me to race with my teammates again.'
Wong has been to four consecutive Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta Games, but a fifth appearance may be too far to reach after his favoured event - the points race on the track - was dropped from the London programme.
'I won't think too much about the London Games at this stage,' he said. 'We try to win points as many as possible and see how things go at the end of the qualification in September.'
The number of points Hong Kong had in the Asia Tour at the end of last month
- Fourth placed Malaysia had 181