The Hong Kong cycling team has set its sights on the 2016 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in London and the Rio Olympics, after getting a brilliant result at the Asian Cycling Championships in Izu, Japan, last month.
The team took five gold, nine silver and four bronze medals at the Asian championship. Cheung King-lok, 24, was the first local rider to win three gold medals in the event, claiming the titles for the individual time trial, road race and 4km individual pursuit. The breakthrough served as a confidence booster for him, as it showed he had become physically and technically stronger.
"I am really excited about the result, as it showed my hard work had paid off," Cheung said on Tuesday. "The toughest event was the road race, where many riders withdrew from the competition as they couldn't stand the windy and chilly weather. I am especially grateful to my coach [Shen Jinkang], who took us to Kunming, [China], where the mountainous terrain and thin air helped us get used to severe weather conditions."
In the road race on January 24, only 11 of the 50 starters were able to finish.
Cheung is looking forward to the cycling world championships in London from March 2-6, where he will compete against first-class international riders. His top priority now is to build up his tenacity.
"I will continue my training in Kunming, where I can become more resilient in any situation."
Asked if he can measure up to legendary local rider Wong Kam-po, Cheung said: "He's my role model and I don't think anyone can be superior to him. His motto - every rider specialises in their own styles - is engraved on my mind."
Hong Kong star Sarah Lee Wai-sze, 28, won gold in the keirin at the Asian championship. But she suffered her first defeat in six years in the 500-metre time trial, coming in second in that event and third in the time sprint.
"In the time trial, China's Zhong Tianshi made a formidable start," Lee said. "There was also something wrong with my tactics when I battled against China's Lin Junhong in the sprint's semi-final."
Lee said the Asian championship was a valuable experience. "I enjoyed every moment, although my nasal allergy during the championships kept me from reaching my full potential."
Lee regards the London world championships as a rehearsal for the Rio Olympics. "This event will attract international riders ahead of the Olympics, so we will take it seriously. I have a lot of preparing to do for this event, especially with starting," she says.
Lee was impressed by the great results achieved by the city's younger riders in Japan. For example, Leung Hoi-wah, 17, won gold in the point race (women's junior track) and Law Tsz-chun, also 17, came in third in the sprint (men's junior track).
"I shared my experience and techniques with them in preparation for this competition, and I'm impressed with their brilliant results," Lee said.
"The city doesn't have large-scale events like the Asian championship, so our young riders get nervous easily when they participate in competitions overseas. I hope the city will organise more international competitions, which provide a great platform to compete with the world's leading cyclists."
Coach Shen said the athletes were outstanding mentally, especially Cheung and Lee, who were able to handle tough situations at the Asian championship.
"Cheung was once behind four other riders in the road race but he managed to win. Lee was able to cope with the pressure after two defeats and finally won a gold medal in her last event. Their accomplishments set a good example for other young riders," Shen said.