SINGAPORE - Luo Yiwei is a bundle of excitement ahead of her maiden appearance at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships, which start on Wednesday (Oct 20) in France.
"Even if I finish last, I'm always excited to be racing beside strong athletes," she told The Straits Times, as she prepared to make history as the first Singaporean to compete in the women's individual pursuit in Roubaix.
Her qualification had come as a surprise, she revealed. She had placed fourth at the UCI Track Cycling Nations Cup in Hong Kong in May. It was her first competition in over a year because of the pandemic and she had entered the event without any track training since Singapore does not have a velodrome.
While the 3min 46.978sec in the qualifying race was some way off her 3:44.234 personal best set in 2019, it was good enough to earn her a ticket to France.
Luo, 31, explained: "We didn't really plan to go for (the Nations Cup) till quite late but it was something I was happy to do because I've always known that you have to race at the world-class level to get better.
"Going into it, I was a bit apprehensive because we hadn't raced in a long time and I didn't know what timings I would be making or what to expect. I'm really happy I qualified with that result."
Luo only found out about her qualification late last month, but she will enter the World Championships with at least some preparation as she had been in Germany training with teammates Calvin Sim and Elyas Yusoff under the supervision of national coach Rizal Tisin.
The trio trained at the Cottbus Sports Centre and had access to an outdoor velodrome and a gym. They had an average of over 20 hours of training over 12 to 14 sessions in the gym, on the track or road.
The professional set-up had been ideal for high-level training, with their hostel a five-minute walk away and meals provided for them at the centre's canteen.
Pointing to the past 11/2 years where many competitions were cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic, she said: "It's a relief that we can have overseas training camps and exposure to races compared to when we were stuck in Singapore and training for competitions without knowing if they're coming or not. It was a bit demoralising every time a race got cancelled."
While she admitted that she does feel a certain pressure to do well, she has learnt to manage such pressure.
Luo, who hopes to improve her personal best at the World Championships, said: "The whole sporting journey has taught me that in order to get better, I have to tread some untrodden paths and that may or may not get me anywhere but I'll know if the path is okay and just smell the flowers along the way."
Sim (men's omnium) and Elyas (men's sprint and 1km time trial) will also make their World Championships debut after they each received a wild card.
Sim, 32, who is hoping to qualify for the 2022 Asian Games, also welcomed the chance to competeafter their lengthy hiatus, saying: "Competitions are very important for us to know what we lack and how to fine-tune our training. Without it, we had no benchmark to validate our work. It also helps get us more exposure because we get to see what world-class athletes are doing and learn from them.
"I'll just do my best and enjoy the process. I don't expect much but I want to learn as much as I can from world-class nations and observe and learn as much as possible.
"The level there will be very high so that will be good exposure for the team to see what it takes to reach this level and this will help us in our preparation towards the 2022 Asian Games."
In the mean time, Elyas, 25, who is also aiming to make the Hangzhou Asiad and the 2024 Paris Olympics, is trying to maintain a relaxed approach.
He said: "I'll just give it my best shot and hopefully get some personal records. I'll try to ignore the fact that it's the World Championships and try and approach it like every other competition and just learn as much as I can."