Singapore's women road cyclists have opened the year with a bang after winning two golds and a silver at the Vita Green Cycling for Health Marathon Challenge in Hong Kong yesterday.
Serene Lee and Luo Yiwei posted a one-two finish in the 10-strong field for the Elite Female 1 criterium race for competitors aged 19 to 39, while team-mate Jeynelle Lee was first out of five in the Elite Female 2 category (ages 40 to 60).
The trio, together with Michelle Ho, made up Singapore's team at the competition.
Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF) head coach Adrian Ng said their performance shows the team are "slowly coming together and getting to know one another's riding styles better".
The quartet are part of the newly formed nine-strong national women's road cycling team assembled after two trials in May and October last year. Yesterday's race was just their second international competition as a team.
Ng, 35, believes the results will give them a welcome confidence boost ahead of future competitions, including August's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
He told The Straits Times: "In the past, they were more conservative in their approach and would let other riders attack first. But this time, they were more eager to go to the front and take the lead. They made the correct decisions on things like sprinting at the right time."
Serene, the most experienced of the lot with two SEA Games cycling appearances (2011, 2015), agreed. Yesterday's race strategy was to be aggressive - a different tactic from the previous competition (the Jelajah Wanita race in Malaysia, in which they came third) where they were instructed to "sit back and watch (how their competitors raced)," said the 28-year-old. who is doing a PhD in exercise physiology at Nanyang Technological University.
The team will next compete at the Biwase Cup in Vietnam from March 8 to 16, and Serene believes her team-mates will rise to the challenge of facing tougher competition there.
Estimating that there will be more than 60 competitors in Vietnam, she added: "(The Hong Kong race) was a good learning experience for the girls. This will give them more confidence to attack out of a group. Our progress is looking good - a lot of other teams came to us and said, 'Good teamwork'.
"So this is a positive sign because it was only our second race together, and we managed to execute a totally different strategy."
The team's promising results put them in good stead ahead of the SEA Games, but SCF road cycling vice-president Bastian Dohling warned against complacency.
"We came here (to Hong Kong) to prepare for the SEA Games," said the German. "The SEA Games will be a different level (of competition) as we will be racing among the strongest nations in the region, so we shouldn't be overconfident after one event."
Ng agreed, adding that there is still "lots to do," including refining tactics and accruing race experience. "The team dynamics are already there," he said. "More race experience for them would be the icing on the cake."
Dohling, 34, stressed that the federation also hopes to grow the cycling team beyond the biennial Games. "We're not just looking to recruit cyclists for the SEA Games; we also want to look forward to what's going to happen after that," he said.
"The KL SEA Games is in about 61/2 months, but we're looking ahead to the next five or 10 years - we want to build a foundation to recruit new riders."
The men's team of Gabriel Tan, Teoh Yi Peng, Luqmanul Hakim Othman and Junaidi Hashim were second in the international team time trial, behind winners Macau and ahead of third-placed Chinese Taipei.