KUALA TERENGGANU: Turning 44 had special significance for Terengganu Cycling Team’s (TSG) head coach Jeremy Hunt.
Former British road race champion Hunt said that he was bent in helping TSG become the top five team in Asia this year.
“It’s a great challenge but I reckon with plenty of hard work, determination, good training, and physical and mental shape, TSG is capable of reaching the target,” said Hunt, who celebrated his birthday with his fellow riders, crew and officials at the TSG Station in Ladang Tok Pelam in Jalan Sultan Zainal Abidin.
Present were TSG executive director Tengku Datuk Farok Hussin Tengku Abdul Jalil, who is also Kuala Nerus district officer, and its chief executive officer Ahmad Farhan Abdul Wahab.
Hunt, who was hired by TSG on Dec 1, 2016, said that the team had a mix of upcoming and experienced riders who had the calibre and potential to beat the best in the continent.
“There are about 15 stage races this year and I hope the team can measure up to expectations.
“There are a lot of fantastic riders with foreign teams, with Japan as the main challengers in Asia,” said Hunt.
TSG’s expatriate riders include Russian Artem Ovechkin, who arrived just four days ago, Eritrean Metkel Eyob, Mongolian Maral Erdene Batmunkh, Australian Drew Morey and Singapore's Goh Choon Huat.
The local aces are brothers Hariff and Zamri Saleh, Mohd Shahrul Mat Amin, Nur Amirul Fakhruddin Mazuki, Mohd Nur Umardi Rosdi, Che Ku Mohd Nazmi Che Ku Romli, Mohd Zulhilmi Afif Zamri, Zul Adry Amin Zulkurnain, Irwandi Lakasek and Afiq Huznie Othman.
“A lot depends on our preparations and the enthusiasm of the riders themselves.
“We as trainers, administrators and support crew will do the utmost for the team to achieve glory,” who just flew in from Australia via Kuala Lumpur hours ago.
Down Under, Hunt was doing conditional training, competitive racing and fine-tuning the TSG for a month in preparation for the Le Tour de Langkawi (LTdL) due to kick-off on Sunday.
“We did a lot of focus on hill climbing, sprints and general fitness over there, knowing well that LTdL will be just a gruelling race like most tours,” said Hunt, a retired British road race champion in 1997 and 2001.
Hunt was part of the Great Britain team that helped Mark Cavendish win the 2011 UCI World Road Race Championship.
Meanwhile, TSG’s latest signing Ovechkin, 31, said that he was battling with the high temperature and sunburn to acclimatise himself with the team.
“In Russia and parts of Europe, the temperatures can be minus ten degrees Celcius.
“Its flaming hot over here, not to mention the spicy food, but I am determined not to let TSG down,” said Ovechkin, who prveviously raced for teams like Gasprom-RusVelo and Team Katusha in Europe and Turkey.
Berdsk-born Ovechkin, who rode in the 2016 Giro d’Italia, added that he went serious racing at 19 before turning professional seven years ago.
Morey, 21, shared Ovechkin’s sentiments but loved the numerous competitions over here, as compared with his native Australia
“I have only been a professional for year after spending three years developing my skills (with Drapac Pat's Veg Holistic Development Team),” said Morey, who made a podium finish at one stage of last year’s Tour de Flores in Indonesia in his maiden race with TSG.