Australia, Malaysia's 'Rocketman' strike gold at world cycling

by Talek HARRIS
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Australia storm to world cycling team pursuit gold

Hong Kong (AFP) - Australia fell just short of a men's and women's team pursuit double on Thursday as Malaysia's 'Pocket Rocketman' Azizulhasni Awang won an emotional maiden world track cycling title in Hong Kong.

Australia beat New Zealand handily in the men's team pursuit final, before their women's squad were denied by the United States despite a furious fightback in which the Aussies briefly snatched the lead.

Hong Kong's former Olympic bronze medallist Sarah Lee ignited home support when she stormed into the women's sprint semi-finals, while Awang also raised the roof with his victory in the keirin.

Awang choked back tears after he ended his long wait for a first rainbow jersey with a storming last-lap surge to finish ahead of Colombia's Fabian Puerta and Czech rider Tomas Babek.

"I've been trying for 10 years. I've failed many times... I keep trying, I never give up because I know if I keep trying hard, one day it's going to be my time," said the Olympic bronze-medallist.

"And finally today, today it's my time. I'm the world champion! I can't believe it!"

Poland's Adrian Teklinski, 27, also grabbed his first rainbow jersey when he surprised the men's scratch field with an early breakaway to win by a distance.

"I think all the other riders were focusing on the sprint to the finish line," Teklinski told AFP. "They didn't suppose I would attack early."

He added: "This is the most happiest day in my life. I think maybe tomorrow it will come to me that I'm world champion."

Australia's men's pursuit team had raised expectations of a new world record with their Wednesday qualifying time of 3min 50.577sec, a shade off Britain's 3:50.265 at last year's Olympics.

But in the event, there was no new record as the defending champions and Olympic silver-medallists clocked 3:51.503, beating New Zealand by nearly 2.5sec.

"After we had done the time in qualifying and we were so close to (the world record), to say it wasn't on our mind at certain stages would be a lie," said Australia's Cameron Meyer, who claimed his seventh world title.

"But we did talk about the procedure of wanting to win the world title first. If you break the world record and that (win) comes along with it then that's the bonus.

"That was my advice to the younger guys: 'Let's win the world title'."

Italy took the bronze medal when in the final kilometre, they overhauled a new-look British team to win by a healthy 1.631sec.

In the women's race for gold the USA, the title-holders and Olympic silver-medallists, held off a determined Australian team to win by 0.417sec.

New Zealand won the bronze-medal race against an Italian team which led until the final 500 metres but fell apart to finish nearly five seconds adrift.