AFTER last year's Asian Track Championships were cancelled due to Covid-19, Malaysian riders made a strong return to the competition, which concluded in New Delhi on yesterday.
Despite the absence of Azizulhasni Awang, Malaysia ended their campaign with one gold, three silver and one bronze to finish third among nine nations.
This was better than the 1-2-2 achieved at the 2020 edition in South Korea.
Malaysia's most outstanding rider in Delhi was arguably youngster Nurul Izzah Izzati Mohd Asri, who captured the women's 500m time trial gold and keirin bronze.
National coach John Beasley has dubbed the 19-year-old a "special talent" who has the potential to become world class.
The Kedahan's emergence is timely as Malaysia has been lacking a top talent in the women's division since the retirement of Fatehah Mustapa in 2020.
There were also positive signs from the men's riders as the trio of Fadhil Zonis, Shah Firdaus Sahrom and his younger brother, Ridwan, claimed silver in the team sprint.
It was Malaysia's first team sprint silver since 2013.
Ridwan, 21, who has slotted in comfortably with his two seniors in Azizulhasni's absence, has underlined his potential as a top rider in the making.
The 34-year-old Azizulhasni, who had heart surgery to correct a coronary artery anomaly in April, is likely to sit out the rest of the year.
Despite not hitting top form in New Delhi, Shah Firdaus and Fadhil, who are preparing for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games next month, still won silver medals in the keirin and 1km time trial.
Track endurance rider Lim Chun Kiat, 22, also deserves a special mention after coming close to becoming the first Malaysian to win a medal in the men's individual pursuit in the Asian meet.
The Sabahan came in fourth but it was nevertheless an impressive performance, considering that he is not under the national team programme.
Beasley is optimistic about the young talent coming up the ranks in Malaysia.
"I am very happy with the performance of the team. It has been a long time since we had competed without our team leader Datuk Azizulhasni, and to be honest I did not know how the team would perform," said Beasley.
"They, however, stepped up and showed great leadership. I could not be more proud.
"We are starting to build some good stocks of Malaysian sprint cyclists. It has taken some time to build and there is a lot more to do yet, though we are starting to build momentum.
"We also have a few other riders back in Malaysia that just missed out on selection, and these riders are also key to the success of the team as they have pushed each other to the level we are currently at."
Among the juniors, Nyo Ci Hui was the standout rider as she emerged victorious in the women's scratch race and also took silver in the omnium.
Zulfahmi Aiman Zulkurnain got a silver in the men's junior scratch race while Akmal Nazimi Jusen finished third in the men's junior keirin and fourth in the sprint.
The attention will now switch to the action on tarmac for the national road championships which begin in Manong, Perak today.