SINGAPORE - Thailand may be debutants at the OCBC Cycle Speedway South-east Asia Championship but the threat they can pose is all too familiar.
Led by SEA Games medallists Thanawut Sanikwathi and Yuttana Mano, their every move at the Singapore Sports Hub today will be followed closely by last year's runners-up Brunei, who were drawn in the same group as the Philippines and Myanmar.
Brunei captain Azmi Abd Hadzid told The Straits Times on Friday (Nov 17): "We know the Thais are good riders because we raced together at the SEA Games, so we have to try not to make mistakes during the race.
"The plan is to follow Thailand and the Philippines wherever they go and if we achieve our target of reaching the semi-finals, then we'll think of another strategy for that."
Two-time defending champions Malaysia, hosts Singapore, Cambodia and first-timers Laos are in the other group following the draw for the OCBC Cycle Speedway SEA and Club Championships at Hotel Jen Orchard Gateway on Friday.
Captain Muhammad Fauzan Ahmad Lutfi was part of the team who won hosts Malaysia's first SEA Games gold in the men's team time trial in August. And he is looking forward to renewing rivalries with Thailand, but acknowledged that anything could happen on race day.
"We beat Thailand in the team time trial but they beat us in the road race, so it's very exciting to have the chance to race against them again," said the 31-year-old, who has featured in the past two editions of the championship.
He insisted that familiarity with the route confers no advantage - because teamwork and race strategy are more important factors.
"If it rains, maybe we'll have a little bit of an advantage because we like the wet conditions," he added with a wry smile.
Thai team manager Adisak Wannasri admitted that his cyclists are not used to the team relay format but are looking forward to the race.
"Hopefully, we can finish on the podium," said the 53-year-old.
Singapore team manager Zul Awab said he will be a "happy man" if the hosts, unexpectedly eliminated in the qualifying rounds last year, finish in the top four.
He hopes that the SEA Games trio - Gabriel Tan, captain Junaidi Hashim and Luqmanul Hakim Othman - can guide Lucas Lee and Lukman Nurhakim in a race that forms part of their tune-up for next February's Asian Cycling Championship.
He said: "This team are relatively new and it's their first race together. They need to get used to riding together and, hopefully, they can work well for future races."
This year's Speedway Championship features three categories - SEA, club and corporate - and the finals are on Saturday (Nov 18). The Sportive Ride and The Straits Times Ride take place on Sunday (Nov 19).