Sarah Lee Wai-sze has returned to the international scene with a bang. The Hong Kong rider took gold in the women’s sprint at the track World Cup series in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, on Sunday. Lee dedicated her victory to her coach Pu Linjun, who died last month after suffering a heart attack.
Lee’s future was under a cloud after she returned home empty-handed from the Rio Olympic Games this summer. But Sunday’s victory, her second in the World Cup series, should give her confidence as she gradually builds towards the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
Lee, who cried in memory of Pu when receiving silver and bronze medals in Saturday’s events, proved to her doubters that she was still a world-class cyclist. The silver came in the 500-metre time trial while she took the bronze in her pet event, the keirin.
Pu had worked with the Hong Kong cycling team in 21 World Cup series events since his arrival in 2010.
The 29-year-old cyclist, who missed the opening round of the series in Glasgow earlier this month, came second in the qualification for the sprint (200 metres) with a time of 11.119 seconds, sending her straight into the quarter-finals under UCI’s new track rules.
Head coach Shen Jinkang praised Lee’s performance, saying she had become a matured rider after competing at the highest level.
“She could still maintain her form after the high-intensity training in preparation for the Rio Games. Indeed Lee only had one practice session following her arrival in Apeldoorn before starting a total 13 races,” said the coach. “Her physical and mental conditions were hardly affected, because her basic ability is always there, and she can perform to her best.”
Britain’s Katy Merchant, who was expected to be Lee’s biggest rival and won bronze in Rio, withdrew in the round of 16.
The Hong Kong rider made it all the way to the final after routing Nicky Degrendele, of Belgium, Australia’s Courtney Field and Olena Starikova, of Ukraine. In the gold medal race, she faced Tania Calvo, of Spain.
Lee, who also beat the Spaniard into third place in the 500-metre time trial, made no mistake with victories in both races of the best-of-three final.
The last time Lee won a World Cup gold medal in the sprint was in 2013 when she defeated Rebecca James of Britain 2-1 in Cali, Colombia. James was the sprint silver medallist at the Rio Games.
In the men’s omnium – now reduced from six to four events – Leung Chun-wing came ninth out of 19 riders.
Lee’s three-medal haul put Hong Kong in fifth position in the overall medal standings in Apledoorn. The World Cup series moves to Cali and then Los Angeles in February. It ends with the World Championships, which will be held in Hong Kong in April next year.
Although sprinter Lee is still an important figure of the team preparing for the 2017 track World Championships in Hong Kong, the 2017 National Games and the Asian Games in Indonesia the following year, Shen said they would put more effort into develop riders in the endurance events.
“The changes of rules in the track competitions and speculation about two additional track events for the 2020 Tokyo Games on top of the 10 current programmes have given us more room for developing endurance events,” said Shen. “We will also start a new preparation cycle with new roles for team members, targeting these changes in order to achieve results.”
The Hong Kong team will continue to use their training bases on the mainland to prepare for these major competitions.