25 October 2020, Sunday | 06:31am

Pocket Rocketman, rivals emerge from Covid lockdown


As Azizulhasni Awang resumes his quest for Olympic glory after the easing of the coronavirus lockdown, so are two of his biggest rivals at next year's Tokyo Games — Great Britain's (GB) Jason Kenny and the Netherlands' Harrie Lavreysen.

Azizulhasni, the 2017 world champion and Rio Olympic bronze medallist, is expected to battle it out with Olympic great Kenny and world No 1 Harrie Lavreysen for the keirin gold in Tokyo.

The trio are among the elite cyclists across the world who have returned to track training albeit under strict guidelines in recent days.

The Pocket Rocketman, King Kenny and the Dutch master will all start on even ground again after almost three months of lockdown has blunted some of their competitive edge.

While the Malaysian government has allowed the Road to Tokyo (RTT) programme in Bukit Jalil, Bukit Kiara and Langkawi to resume, Azizulhasni and national teammate Shah Firdaus Sahrom have done the same at their training base in Melbourne.

The duo got their first taste of track training again at the Joe Ciavola Velodrome on Monday.

It is a similar scenario in Europe as Kenny and Lavreysen have also returned to velodrome training.

Kenny, who won the keirin, sprint and team sprint gold at the 2016 Rio Oympics, was among 12 British cyclists who were back in action at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester last week.

British Cycling performance director Stephen Park said they have implemented many measures to assure the safety of their athletes and staff.

Team GB, however, have not made it compulsory for all their riders to return training immediately.

"We have been clear from the outset that any return to training within the HSBC UK National Cycling Centre would be voluntary for both riders and staff, with anyone having the choice to opt out if there was any reason they weren't comfortable," said Park in a statement released on the British Cycling website.

"At this early stage of return, we are only supporting access to riders who are on a Tokyo trajectory and the facility is only to be used for training which cannot be completed from home.

"The date for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games may have changed, but our ambitions for success have not.

"I'm really proud of the project team who are working diligently on our return to training plan to support the riders' progressive transition back to full-time training, when the time is right."

Kenny and Azizulhasni, who both turn 33 next year, will have to be at their best if they hope to win gold in Tokyo as the Netherlands' Harrie Lavreysen has emerged as the man to beat in recent years.

Lavreysen, 23, has won six gold medals over the last three editions of the World Championships, including a clean sweep of the keirin, individual sprint and team sprint at the Berlin world meet in March.

The Netherlands' team sprint victory also proves they have strength in depth with the likes of Roy Van den Berg and Matthijs Buchli proving just as dangerous as Lavreysen.

Lavreysen has also returned to velodrome training and recently posted a picture of himself and teammates distanced away from each other between training sessions at the Omnisport Velodrome in Apeldoorn.

"No this (picture) is not (of) a school exam, it's social distancing. (I am) very happy that we are able to train on the track again," said Lavreysen, in a post on his Instagram page.

With the Olympics still 13 months away, pushing for outright pace on the track is unlikely to be a top priority for the riders at the moment. Peaking at the right time is key for sprint event specialists.

But after spending the last three months on strength training or on a static trainer, Azizulhasni, Kenny, Lavreysen and the other big guns are scrambling to make up for lost time at the velodrome.

Source: New Straits Times


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