Azizul the first cyclist to bag three consecutive overall titles
By LIM TEIK HUAT
PETALING JAYA: A plucky Azizulhasni Awang made his way into the history books as the first track cyclist to capture a third successive World Cup overall title in the keirin event despite earning a bronze medal in the final leg in Manchester in the most extraordinary circumstances on Saturday evening.
The 23-year-old had made the top-six final and was attempting to come through a gap to catch triple Olympic champion Chris Hoy of Britain who had sprinted clear when he crashed into Spaniard Juan Gascon Peralta while doing close to 50mph.
The others failed to avoid the scrap and collided into each other.
But somehow Azizul managed to get back on his bike after the dramatic crash to stagger across the finish line for the bronze despite a nine-inch long wooden splinter piercing his left calf.
Azizul, who ended a 40-year drought in cycling by winning the Asian Games gold medal in Guangzhou last year, did not made it to the podium ceremony as he was stretchered out of the arena.
The burly Hoy did not disappoint the sell-out home crowd as he surged past his opponents down the back straight as the bell rang for the final lap to clinch his second World Cup gold medal for the 2010-2011 season after earning his first in Melbourne three months earlier.
Azizul claimed the World Cup overall title and the coveted white jersey with a total of 28 points in the final standings after four legs.
Hoy was second, four points behind, while Simon van Velthooven of New Zealand, the winner of the third leg in Beijing, was third on 18 points.
Azizul was the winner of the second leg in Colombia in December and he also reached the final in Beijing where he finished sixth.
It was crucial for Azizul to qualify for the final despite competing against a classy field led by Hoy to defend his World Cup overall title and he indicated his intention from the start by advancing to the second round in style after winning his first round heat.
The two-time World Championships silver medallist rider went on to earn a place in the final after coming in third in the second round heat behind Edward Dawkins of New Zealand and Niblett.
Team manager Datuk Naim Mohamad said it was really unfortunate for Azizul to be pierced by the splinter from the timber track.
“The Spanish rider crowded into Azizul’s lane and took out his wheel, sliding for about a few metres on the track with his bicycle.
“That’s when it must have scraped the timber track and the wooden splinter pierced Azizul’s left calf coming in from the back and went right through to the front.
“Peralta crossed the finish line without his bike and he was disqualified and Azizul was promoted.
“But his place as the overall winner was in the bag after making the final earlier. It’s a glorious moment but for the accident,” said Naim from Manchester.
Fellow Malaysian cyclist Josiah Ng missed out on the final when he finished fourth in the second round heat but had the consolation of finishing ahead of reigning world champion Gregory Bauge of France.
Josiah, the country’s first Commonwealth Games champion in track cycling, had to come back to win the repechage after failing to win the first round heat to earn automatic entry for the second round.