Strong return by Azizul after heart surgery

KUALA LUMPUR: After more than a year away from racing, Azizulhasni Awang showed positive signs on his return to competition at the opening round of the UCI Track Champions League (TCL) in Mallorca, Spain, yesterday.

Azizulhasni, who underwent heart surgery in April, finished fourth in his first round keirin heat at Velodrome Illes Balears behind Shinji Nakano of Japan. Matthew Richardson and Thomas Cornish notched a 1-2 for Australia.

The TCL is a one-day event with a shortened format which sees the top two from each heat progressing straight to the final.

World champion Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands) won the event with Germany's Stefan Botticher and Richardson coming in second and third in the final.

Azizulhasni later competed in the sprint where he finished second in his opening round heat, crossing the line a mere 0.004s behind Israel's Mikhail Yakolev. Suriname's Jair Tjon En Fa placed third.

Only the respective heat winners progressed to the semi-finals. Richardson took top honours, beating Lavreysen in the final.

National head coach John Beasley was nevertheless pleased with Azizulhasni's performance. It was his first competitive appearance since winning the keirin silver at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

"Datuk Azizul's ride in the keirin was solid. He drew fifth position and went from the back to the front as the motor left the track," said Beasley.

"From there, the Japanese rider (Shinji) went full gas and we were in position two for most of the race.

"When the two Aussie riders came around the field in the last half of the final lap, Datuk Azizul was already out of legs.

"In the sprint I thought we would be even more exposed because it is an acceleration discipline, it's all about how fast you can move your own mass.

"And to everybody's surprise, he almost won the race (heat). He just missed out by a centimetre, and from where I stood at the time, I thought he got to the line first.

"It was his first race back and it was also at the very top level, I did not expect him to be so competitive straight away. This is a very encouraging sign."

Azizulhasni had undergone surgery to correct a coronary artery anomaly in Australia on April 26.

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