Dream fulfilled for Hong Kong – now for the medals
City hosts the UCI Track World Championships for the first time as more than 300 riders from across the globe compete for honour with Sarah Lee the sole medal hope for the hosts
Hong Kong has fulfilled its dream of hosting the UCI Track World Championships, which spins into action at the Tseung Kwan O Velodrome on Wednesday. The dream could even be sweeter if Hong Kong riders win medals on one of the biggest stages in world track cycling.
The Worlds come to the city three-and-a-half years after the HK$600 million Tseung Kwan facility first opened, providing a venue for Hong Kong’s top riders such as Sarah Lee Wai-sze to showcase their skills around the 250-metre track.
“Our riders have been racing very well on the track and it’s a big recognition to have the World event come to Hong Kong for the first time,” said Cycling Association chairman Leung Hung-tak.
The HK$15 million UCI Track World Championships are being held in Asia for only the second time in history after Maebashi, Japan last hosted it in 1990, such is the prestige of the event.
With the stage set for five days of pulsating action at Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong’s greatest track cyclist will be hoping to finish among the medal winners as she reacquaints with some of the riders who were in action at the Rio Olympics Games last year.
Lee turns 30 next month but is still proving to be a world-class rider and she will be out to prove she still has what it takes to be a world champion. She takes part in three events this week, including the 500 metre time trial, the same event she became world champion in 2013 in Belarus. She will also compete in the sprint and keirin at Tseung Kwan O. She won bronze in the keirin event at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Hong Kong coach Shen Jinkang admitted Lee would present the strongest – if not the only – medal hope with the city’s other riders yet to reach Lee’s experience and expertise.
“This is a world -class event and we don’t have too many medal hopes other than Sarah [Lee] in her three events,” said Shen. “But Hong Kong riders could still achieve good results. We have been training for more than a month and the home fans will most definitely cheer the riders.
“We hope our riders don’t get too over excited by the cheering and lose their pace when the fans cheer at them in Cantonese. This is the only place in the world where they will be cheered in their own language. The riders must keep cool at their home venue.
Lee will face a stiff test in her pursuit for medals this week. Her biggest rival is expected to be Germany’s Kristina Vogel, gold medallist in the sprint at last year’s Olympic Games. Then there are the Chinese pair of Guo Shuang and Lin Junhong, Russia duo Anastasia Voynova and Daria Shmeleva, both of Russia and Australian Stephanie Morton.
Vogel, who won both the sprint and keirin in the last two rounds of the World Cup series in the Americas before coming to Hong Kong, expects a tough fight with Lee in “her own backyard”.
“Sarah Lee always fights hard and she is tough. Her tactics are very good and she’ll be a tough rider to beat,” said the German sprinter. “I hope I can meet her again in the medal race in Hong Kong.”
The duo clashed in the sprint quarter-finals in Rio with Vogel winning both races to make it to the next round before clinching gold after beating Rebecca James of Great Britain in the final.
The sprinters, however, will not take to the track on the opening day of the championships which feature more than 300 riders from across the globe. The sprinters will be action over a two-day period starting from Thursday, followed by the 500-metre time trial on Saturday and then the keirin on Sunday.
The Hong Kong women’s pursuit team, comprising Diao Xiaojuan, Pang Yao, Yang Qianyu and Leung Po-yee, begin their campaign on Wednesday, aiming to better the Hong Kong record, which stands at four minutes 32.293 seconds. That was set in the 2015 World Cup in Cali, Colombia, where they finished seventh.
“We have been training here for more than a month with the World Championships our target,” said Leung Po-yee. “We are reaching peak form and we are confident of putting on a good performance.”
Diao will also start in the women’s scratch race on the opening day, an event that saw her win the World Cup series in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2014.