SINGAPORE - The chase for medals at the UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Cup Barcelona was afoot, and national mountain biker Riyadh Hakim had his sights on double European champion Jeroen van Eck and reigning world champion Simon Gegenheimer in the semi-finals on Saturday (Oct 2).
But instead a mistake at a turn ended his hunt prematurely as he crashed out, finishing last of the four cyclists. But the 22-year-old had no time to lick his wounds as he was back at the starting line of the small final less than five minutes later.
Determined to put the crash behind him, he topped that race - which determines overall positions - in 1min 22.82sec to finish fifth overall and claim a podium spot, a first for a Singaporean rider.
He said: "I had nothing to lose in the next round (the small final). Halfway through the first lap, I was still leading and I felt that the gap was quite good.
"I just kept thinking, 'Don't blow it, keep pushing till the finish line'. After crossing the finish line, I realised what I'd done. It's quite a big milestone for any cyclist."
The race in Barcelona was supposed to bookend his 10-week training stint in Europe, but Riyadh will now extend his stay till the end of October after receiving an invitation to compete in the Sakarya MTB Cup and Turkey Eliminator National Series in Turkey.
Since arriving in Europe in early August, Riyadh has trained and competed in eight races in preparation for next year's SEA Games in Hanoi and the Hangzhou Asian Games.
His first race at the UCI Mountain Bike Eliminator World Cup in Leuven, Belgium was an eye-opener as he got to see what it was like racing at the highest level.
He said: "High-level racers are much stronger so it really pushes you above your limits every single race and that is something that we lack in the competition in Asia and you won't improve that greatly because you're always riding within your limits.
"Every race, I gave my 110 per cent. In my mind, I told myself that I've already gone so far and so many people have supported me to do this, so I wasn't going to give up just because I was tired."
Riyadh, who in 2019 became Singapore's first gold medallist at the Asian Cycling Championships, feels the trip has been crucial for his development as he was able to race against the world's top cyclists and experience different trails.
The stint has helped his race tactics and he has learnt to pace himself during races, he added.
Riyadh's coach Junaidi Hashim was glad that he got the opportunity to embark on this training stint, especially with the postponement and cancellation of competitions in the past one-and-a-half years.
The 39-year-old said: "I was getting worried because there are so many things I feel as an athlete, if you keep doing good training, you commit so much but if you don't know where you are (as compared to others) and it affects the mental aspect of things.
"Because of the major Games, if we don't do proper preparations and training, it will be tough. I know he's put in so much effort so this Europe trip was worth going for."
After completing his national service in August last year, Riyadh taught physical education at a primary school and was set on enrolling at the National Institute of Education to pursue a teaching career. But he has put those plans on hold to pursue his dream of cycling professionally.
He said: "Sometimes it's hard to think about family and friends at home, but I do this to inspire the younger generation, to show that nothing is impossible.
"In Singapore, it's hard to think of sports as something you want to do in the future, but if you have the heart and soul to do it, you find the right people to help you, you can do great things.
"I'm really happy to see the improvements (on this trip) and to have a nice result to top it off is something very special for me."