New-look cycling squad prepare for KL Games
New-look national squad get down to business
There were young boys in school uniforms, a few steeped in hipster sub-culture, one covered in tattoos, and a few women too, a motley crew coming together for the first time, braced for the gruelling journey ahead.
Some were chatting among themselves but, mostly, the group were wide-eyed and silent, paying close attention to the briefing, then lining up to get fitted for uniforms.
It looked - and felt - like the first day of Basic Military Training on Pulau Tekong.
Like military recruits, this group will be physically and mentally put to the test, but their goal is different - sporting glory at next year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur.
After three months of open trials, the national cycling squad assembled on Friday, with familiar faces as well as new additions.
Thirty-six members were selected after the Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF) selections, with training kicking off tomorrow, in what will be a five-day week for the squad.
The number will be whittled down to 27 at the end of next month, before cyclists are sent to various races to be tested against regional rivals.
Those who ace the tests will still have a training camp to contend with, before earning the right to represent the Republic at the biennial Games.
Singapore won two bronzes at last year's SEA Games through Vincent Ang and Dinah Chan, and the aim is to better that tally next year.
"Some of you will not be able to take the training," said national coach Adrian Ng, while addressing his charges. "But this is the survival of the fittest, that's the way it is."
But they are looking forward to the challenge.
"It's a real honour to represent the country," said Teoh Yi Peng, who quit his real estate job to give the sport his full attention.
"I really want to be at the SEA Games. I'm 28 this year and, if I don't give it a good shot, I will be too old."
Luqmanul Hakim, 18, is approaching it with similar positivity.
Said the junior champion of this year's OCBC Cycle National Mountain Bike Championship: "I came here not knowing what to expect, and this is a group of strangers trying to become a team. I think it will be a good experience.
"I used to be a rebellious teen, and got into quite a bit of trouble before I got into competitive cycling two years ago.
"I like the adrenalin, and I'm now more focused. I've achieved some of my dreams already by being the national champion, but I want to cycle at a pro level."
This is the first senior national squad that have been selected via an open trial-based quantifiable measurements of athletes' power.
Bastian Dohling, the SCF's vice-president (Road), believes it is a move that will hopefully keep more in the sport.
HERE TO STAY
"We will have to cut the squad over time, but we hope that by being involved, we can inspire them to keep training, and try again next year," he said, confirming that the system is here to stay.
"We were overwhelmed by the response to the open trials, and we've got several new faces here. We now have nine women in the squad, compared to two last year.
"But quantity will give us quality (in the long run), and we hope to attract more people and increase our pool."
Former national cyclist Loh Kheng Wah, whose son Firoz finished fourth in the junior time trial at last year's Asian Cycling Championships, is buoyed by the SCF's new national team selection process.
He believes this is a sign of better things to come.
"I've not seen such a proper plan for a long time.
"I think it's a clear and transparent system that is fair to riders," said Loh, a three-time bronze medallist at the South-east Asian Peninsula Games, the precursor of the SEA Games.
"If we didn't have this, we'd draw from the same pool of riders all the time."
“I’ve not seen such a proper plan for a long time. I think it’s a clear and transparent system that is fair to riders.”
— Former national cyclist Loh Kheng Wah, whose son Firoz finished fourth in the junior time trial at last year’s Asian Cycling Championships, on the new open-trial system for the new national cycling squad