From the first day the Cycling iQ blog started, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a core group of individuals that share a similar objective: discover and broadcast information held captive inside Asia’s growing, but at-times seldom-reported, professional road cycling scene. In his own words, Malaysian journalist Shamshul Fitri shares his passion for the job.
My name is Shamshul Fitri Abdul Majid; though I use Shamshul Fitri as my byline. I’m 33 years of age and I’m from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I work as a sport journalist for Malaysia’s biggest English daily, The Star. When I’m not working, I can be found cycling around the rural areas of Selangor, where I live.
My interest in cycling started late, when I was 23. At that time, following pro cycling was something really new to me, but I remember Lance Armstrong (not) winning his sixth TDF title that year. Oh how I was duped. Fast-forward a few years. I got into journalism and, after three years working, I landed a spot on the sports desk at The Star. It was a dream come true for me and I’ve now been a journalist for seven years.
Before I started writing about bike races in 2009, The Star was not really keen on cycling. I think they only sent their reporters once to cover Le Tour de Langkawi since its inception in 1996. In 2011, I pushed my editor to let me follow the race and I’ve been following it since. In terms of conditions at the Tour de Langkawi, I have little to complain about; although it’s not every year I get access to race radio. This year was the worse, in that regard. I was plonked into a van with a few other journalists and we had no radio; so I had to hitch a ride with somebody else.
For other events, such as the Asian Championships, or World Championships, The Star have no qualms for us to cover them, so long as there is a significant representation of Malaysian riders. For other 2.2 local events or local championships, it is even easier. Recently, my work featured in a local cycling mag (Cycling Asia) and I intend to continue contributing. I would say a good 40% of my writing is about cycling, including track cycling.
Getting the inside scoop from teams in the race can be challenging. Of course, stage winners and jersey leaders have a press conference after the race. But to get the stories before the queen stage, to get the scoop on who’s the sprinter to watch, future plans, etc; that’s quite something. Some pro riders act as if we Asians don’t know much about pro cycling, but those who have come to Malaysia before to race are quite accommodating.
I speak a little French, since I took a paper at school ages ago. I understand a bit of Italian and Spanish but I can’t converse well. It has helped me a lot since riders coming for races in Malaysia mostly speak any of the three and their English is not very good. Furthermore, it gets the conversation off to a good start if you know a bit of their language. If I could change anything in pro cycling though, it would be to offer special travel discounts so more pro riders can travel to races further afield.
As for the most promising riders from Asia… there’s no need to talk about those in the WT teams as they are already established and doing fine in their respective squads. I’m more interested in the ‘promising’ factor of others guys. Since Wong Kam Po blasted the scene ages ago, Hong Kong have been consistently churning up good riders. Choi Ki Ho looks promising at the moment, in terms of GC racing. He looks to be transitioning well from track to the road. Asian Championships silver medalist Gu Sung-eun from South Korea is now with Orica-AIS. Iranians? They have good GC riders, but they won’t go far because of visa trouble. Malaysia has a number of good sprinters like Anuar Manan (Synergy Baku) and Harrif Salleh (Terengganu Cycling), but they need to be based outside of the country if they want to increase their level. I guess Fumy Beppu can be the first to win a Tour de France stage if he is in the lineup for TDF. But it must be in a crazy breakaway that is let loose by the peloton.
So, what do I enjoy about pro cycling? The drama in the race; the race inside the race. The local cycling scene has also picked up significantly now. This is largely due to the upward trend of cycling in Malaysia in general. More bikes can be seen on the roads now, compared to four years ago. If I’m able to expand my coverage Asia-wide, it would be brilliant. But that is like waiting for cows to fly.
NOTE: Fitri’s work appears in print in The Star’s sports section and also in the e-paper version. Besides the Tour de Langkawi, he will usually report on the other UCI AsiaTour races in Malaysia; Tour of Borneo and Jelajah Malaysia. You can also follow Fitri on Twitter.