Cycling discovers China

As we sat in a hotel lobby between stages of the Tour of South China Sea, Kam Po Wong's home stage...

An interview with Wong Kam Po, January 13, 2007

At 33-years of age, Kam Po Wong is certainly in the later stages of his career but that hasn't stopped the Chinese rider from achieving in the sport he loves most. With another Asia Games medal now in his trophy cabinet Wong tells Cyclingnews' Steve Thomas that there's at least one more Olympic Games left in him.

As we sat in a hotel lobby between stages of the Tour of South China Sea, Kam Po Wong's home stage race, it was blatantly obvious that I was in the company of a local superstar. The hotel staff were all peering and grinning from behind half opened doors, then one girl nervously came over with here mobile phone and asked for a photo, she was literally jumping up and down with glee at meeting one of Hong Kong's biggest sporting heroes. It seems as though this humble bike rider is almost as big as Jacky Chan in these parts!

I first met Wong about seven years ago, and did a little digging into his track record. This guy was without doubt one of the most promising bike riders around back then and the hottest thing to come out of Asia since curry powder. Hailing from the small island enclave of Hong Kong, where there are almost no rideable roads, Wong has gone on to win just about every race in Asia, or at least stages in them, as well as winning regularly in Europe and Australia.

He can climb - having won the prestigious Cameron Highlands stage of the Tour de Langkawi amongst other things, he can sprint - winning numerous bunch sprints all around the world and he can ride competently against the clock. To top it all off Wong is a top performer on the track too.

CN: This is your home race, you've been in the action, but don't seem too happy about how things are going?
KP:
Yes, after the Asian Games I came back and had a lot of receptions and festivities, so didn't look after myself too well for a couple of weeks, not great training, and now I have a chest cold. And today (stage 2) my team manager was very angry that we had a rider in the last break and only got fourth, because we held off for him thinking he could win the sprint.

CN: Your Hong Kong team seems very strong, and cycling seems to be booming here?
KP:
They are young riders and very strong, they work very well together as a team. But they lack experience, and don't quite get things right - especially their timing when I ask them to chase and things. But things are really coming up here and in China, the economy is booming and the government invest more money in sport, which enables us to develop riders more.

CN: How do things work here, especially with no facilities in Hong Kong?
KP:
In Honk Kong it's not so easy, no real roads, and one velodrome - outdoors. We generally go across the border to the mainland for training, several times a year - mainly to the velodromes. [We] also often [go] to the Chinese Sports Institute centre at Kumning - it's at high altitude and I do a lot of my distance training there.

CN: Hong Kong just won two gold's at the Asian Games, including your second road gold, but your last one was in 1998. Did you think you could do it again so late in your career?
KP:
I was so happy, and everybody in Hong Kong too. The last time I was very young, since then I have always been close, then I thought I could make the podium. It was not really a case of racing against the field, more of getting an opportunity and taking it. The media here had all been saying at 33 I was past it, so I was so happy to win at such extremes in my career.

CN: Everybody in Hong Kong Knows you, why are you so popular?
KP:
This is a small place, and the sport is not so big, so when we get a sportsman who competes and wins against the bigger nations it's big news. There are lots of newspapers and TV stations here too, and they get really competitive about things, so if one makes a story on me the other has to go bigger.

CN: How is it that you are so versatile with your talents?
KP:
Between the ages of 19-26 I thought I could climb well, and focussed on that, and could not sprint at all. Then I decided to go for the track, and all that training turned me into a good sprinter, but I don't think I climb as well now.

CN: You must have had many offers from bigger teams in Europe. Why did you never take them up, and do you regret that?
KP:
There was always a lot of talk about it and I would say to the younger riders here that you must go to Europe, but then it was not so easy for me, nothing ever really came together. I spend about two-three months a year racing in Europe. But my backing always comes from the HK Sports Institute and in order to assure money for a cycling team here, we have to get results in Asian races. It would take our riders two-three years based in Europe to achieve results there.

CN: Where do you go from here?
KP:
After the Athens Olympics I really wanted to stop cycling. I have been racing for 12-14 years and have to look to the future. The sport is small here and there is not much money in it, but I like it too much, so decided to continue. Now I want to go for the points race in Beijing, after that I don't know, maybe I will stop. At my age going to a European team is a little late, I would maybe have one or two years, that's all. So I will focus on the Olympics.

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