Most of Serene Lee's outings at national cycling championships have ended in tears after finishing second. There were no tears at yesterday's OCBC Cycle National Road Championships, after the 30-year-old won her first national title in 2hr 43min 19.84sec in Nongsa, Batam.
"I've been second for as long as I can remember, maybe since my first national championships," Lee told The Straits Times at Tering Bay, where the race ended.
"Every year (my team would) see me coming back crying because I'd just missed by a couple of centimetres or a wheel or two. It has been eight years in the making and this week everything just went perfectly. I finally had a good week leading up to the race, everything paid off and every dog has its day."
She took a conservative approach during the 96km race at the Nongsa circuit, biding her time whenever her competitors broke away before making her move.
Lee, an exercise physiologist, believes the reason for her breakthrough this year is a change in mindset, aided by a "support village" that spans Singapore, Australia and Europe. She spent five weeks training and racing in the Netherlands in May, and will be back there at the end of the month. She will then go to Perth to pursue a doctorate at Murdoch University.
Listing the components of her support village - her boss, Dutch team Maaslandster International and her family, Lee, whose mother accompanied her to Batam, said she had been especially moved by her father's support before yesterday's race, especially since he had been in hospital recently.
This year's national championships took place overseas for the first time, and Lee feels there was a more communal atmosphere than in previous years. "After the race, nobody can go home and now they are mingling with one another - that's what the racing community should be, it's about the friendships you make off the bike."
Still, it was not all smooth sailing with some riders, including Lee and men's Open winner Goh Choon Huat, who won the 120km race in 3:22:14.21, voicing concerns over how several categories had been flagged off at the same time.
Nonetheless, Lee gave credit to the Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF), saying: "Kudos to SCF for setting a precedent and holding the national championships in a different country. This race was a lot more competitive - there was terrain that people could actually play on and they get to ride on roads they don't usually experience."
SCF president Hing Siong Chen noted that the points Lee and Goh made had been considered, but said staggering the different categories "was not possible in terms of logistics and cost" as races would have taken an entire day to complete, instead of half a day.
A total of 264 cyclists competed across 12 categories yesterday. Hing noted that cycling's first overseas national championship was "probably as good as it can go in our first race", and added: "We had to limit our number of riders this time because we could only have two ferries. We had a waiting list of about 50 to 60 who couldn't come.
"Moving forward, we hope to scale it up a bit more to make it more accessible to everyone."