The World Track Cycling Championships, which kick off in Berlin today, are a vital stage for Olympic hopeful Azizulhasni Awang after what has so far been a challenging run-up to the Tokyo Games.
Malaysian fans will hope that former world keirin champion Azizulhasni is back in good shape after a freak accident last September when he almost severed his finger in a training mishap.
This saw him lose valuable momentum in his training.
The Pocket Rocketman, however, was still able to bounce back strongly to win the gold (individual sprint) and silver (keirin) at the Asian Championships in South Korea three weeks later.
All appeared well as Azizulhasni romped to victory in the keirin at the Cambridge, New Zealand round of the World Cup in November but then disaster struck again — he suffered a heavy crash at the Brisbane leg of the World Cup in December which kept him on the sidelines for another two weeks.
Apart from Azizulhasni, two other Malaysians, Muhammad Shah Firdaus Sahrom and Fadhil Zonis will also compete in Berlin.
Shah will take part in the sprint and keirin with Azizulhasni while Fadhil will ride in the one kilometre time trial.
Malaysia will have a slight advantage if both Azizulhasni and Shah are able to qualify for the keirin final, which is usually a tactical affair, though it remains to be seen if the less experienced Shah is capable of playing his role.
All three riders have made significant gains in physical strength over the past 18 months, and this will give them a more level playing field against their bigger Caucasian rivals.
It will be interesting to see what kind of improvement Azizulhasni is able to produce after putting in extensive work on his aerodynamics in the search for marginal gains.
Azizulhasni will enter the World Championships as the World No 1 in the keirin but the UCI rankings do not always reflect the strength of the field with some riders choosing to compete on a limited schedule.
The Netherlands, who dominated the sprint disciplines last year, are again expected to ride high through riders such as Matthijs Buchli, who is the defending champion in the keirin, and also the Olympic silver medallist.
The Dutch also have Harrie Lavreysen, defending champion in the individual sprint and Jeffrey Hoogland to rely on.
With such depth, it was no surprise the Netherlands also won the team sprint last year.
Britain, who have been quiet in the sprint events over the past few years, are expected to make their presence felt as Englishman Jason Kenny, winner of the Olympic keirin, individual sprint and team sprint gold medals, prepares to peak for Tokyo.
Britain will also send in Scotsman Jack Carlin, 22, who has been tipped for “great things” by Kenny and Sir Chris Hoy.
Carlin, who won silver in the individual and team sprints at the 2018 World Championships in Apeldoorn, will be competing in his first Olympics in July.
The Berlin World Championships are also the final chance for riders to collect qualifying points for the Olympics. The final list of qualifiers will be announced after the competition.
Azizulhasni and Shah should have no problems securing their spots in Tokyo.