PETALING JAYA: All eyes will be on Mohd Firdaus Mohd Zonis in the Asian Cycling Championships in Korat, Thailand, from Feb 4-14.
This will be the 18-year-old’s first campaign with the senior elite track squad after his spectacular days in the junior ranks.
Firdaus was the toast of the Malaysian team when he completed a treble of sprint, keirin and 1km time trial gold medals in the junior ranks of the Asian meet New Delhi in 2013 and in Kazakhstan, May last year.
He went on to bag a bronze in the 1km time trial at the World Junior Championships in South Korea August last year before being roped in to join the elite squad based in Melbourne under John Beasley.
For this year’s Asian meet, Beasley has entered Firdaus for the keirin, sprint and 1km time trial alongside Azizulhasni Awang, Josiah Ng and Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom.
The 19-year-old Mohd Shah is also looking to break out of the shadows of Azizulhasni and Josiah.
Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) deputy president Datuk Naim Mohamad annouced the squad and said that it would be interesting to see youngsters like Firdaus and Mohd Shah stepping up to the plate.
“Firdaus is the Asian No. 1 for sprint, keirin and 1km time trial in the junior ranks. He dominated the Asian junior scene but has now moved up to the senior category.
“He will be up against experienced seniors ... but that’s exactly the challenge he has to face,” said Naim.
An added incentive at the Asian meet is that the respective winners will qualify as the continental champions for the Track World Championships in France from Feb 18-22.
“We hope our new batch of elite riders will book their slots in Korat. Seniors like Azizulhasni, Josiah and Fatehah Mustapa have already booked theirs via the World Cup legs, so the rest have one more chance to earn their slots in the World Championships ... but they can only do that as Asian champions,” said Naim.
The Asian meet also offers ranking points for track cycling qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Fatehah, the Incheon Asian Games silver medallist in keirin, leads the women’s squad, with promising rider Farina Shawati Mohd Adnan making her senior debut.
Ju Pha Som Net, who is also based in Melbourne, will ride in the scratch, points race and individual pursuit with Nurul Alissa Azman.
The new-look men’s track endurance squad will see youngsters Afiq Huznie Othman, Mohd Zawawi Azman and Akmal Hakim Zakari trying to make an impact in their first year as elite riders alongside Amir Mustafa Rusli, Sofian Nabil Omar Bakri, Nik Mohd Azwan Zulkifle, Mohd Fairet Rusli, Mohd Farid Razali and Asyraf Naim Ying.
The road squad features a full line-up from the Terengganu Cycling Team – Zamri Saleh, Harrif Saleh, Adiq Husainie Othman, Saufi Mat Senan and Saiful Anuar Abdul Aziz.
Malaysia bagged four golds, three silvers and four bronzes at the Asian meet last year – all from the track discipline.