Tour to test the courage of HK's riders

Wong Kam-po's odyssey into unfamiliar territory begins today when he competes in the longest race of his career - the Marlboro Tour of the Philippines.

Hong Kong's number one rider takes part in the fourth- longest multi-stage race in the world confident he will complete the 18-stage event, but wary of his chances against the opposition, who will also be chasing the US$350,000 prize money.

'We have had three days' preparation in Manila so we have acclimatised to the hot weather quite well. We don't really know what to expect over the next two weeks,' said Wong.

'We only know it's going to be tough because this tour is more than twice the distance of the Tour of Taiwan.' The Hong Kong team, which includes five other riders, have received special equipment and food from Hong Kong to help them endure the 2,500-kilometre journey, which begins with a four-kilometre prologue in Cagayan de Oro City on the island of Mindanao.

Special drink, food and tyres have been shipped to the Hong Kong team, who will also have the services of a mechanic and a masseur from the Hong Kong Sports Institute.

The territory's team, which also includes Man Wai-chung, John Prosser, Ng Kwok-wah, Eric Sutherland and Ip Chi-hong, know they will face severe physical and mental challenges competing in their longest tour. Most of the Hong Kong riders competed in the Tour of Taiwan, which was run in nine stages over 1,100 kilometres.

'It's been very hot and humid in Manila. The temperature is in the mid-30s. The weather is similar to Hong Kong's in the summer. That will be a problem for all of us,' said Wong, who finished second in the Tour of Taiwan.

'We have prepared for this tour quite well and I'm confident I can finish the tour, provided I stay injury-free. This is the longest tour for me so far but I'm excited because many of Asia's top riders are competing as well.' Teams from Japan, Korea and Mongolia are also competing in the tour, which will include stages in Mindanao, Manila, the Baguio mountains and Baguio City.

The Hong Kong team did most of their preparation for the race in the territory.

They also trained on the flat roads of Zhuhai in China and climbed up the territory's highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, to improve their hill climbing.