KUALA LUMPUR (1 March 2011) – OF the 31 teams set to start the Jelajah Malaysia in one week, one sets itself apart from the rest in being the only team made up entirely of university students and managed by university staff.
The Ministry of Higher Education Cycling Focus Centre-Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (MHECFC-UTEM) team has already broken new ground in being the first team representing a project with virtually its own faculty dedicated to the sport of cycling based at UTEM in Melaka.
The project launched by the Ministry of Higher Education on 28 April, 2010, saw UTEM appointed as the centre for the study of the sport and the development of cyclists, which in less than a year has already achieved mild success by parading their team in an International Cycling Union (UCI) graded international event.
Under the guidance of famed former national rider and Olympian Ishak Amin, who serves as manager, the MHECFC-UTEM team has gone from strength to strength, recently achieving their best result to date when coach-cum-rider Sayuti Zahit finished fifth in the SIC-Kencana Bikeathon criterium race at the Sepang International Circuit.
Sayuti, 26, is the most recognisable name in the squad, having served the national team in the earlier part of his career before moving to the all-conquering LeTua Cycling Team which included the likes of Anuar Manan and Ahmad Haidar Anuawar between 2007 and 2008.
The former Asian Junior Championships road race silver medallist and Asian Cycling Championships scratch race silver medallist is also a sports science graduate who is extending his studies while serving the cycling project at UTEM.
Sayuti said the ultimate aim of the project is to be the centre of university-based talents in the sport, geared towards the programmes goal of producing thinking athletes of calibre to represent the country in the future.
"This is a fresh new project with a five year goal to meet a number of significant objectives. At the centre we also conduct studies to improve the development of cyclists, who are from centres of higher education throughout the country," said Sayuti.
"At the centre, cyclists receive all the support they require such as lodging, meals, supplements and equipment, which are all fully sponsored by the Ministry of Higher Education. We have been training and competing in local competitions the past year and will now look towards higher levels of competition.
"Through competition we also conduct our own studies to firstly help improve the performances of the cyclists in our team which eventually will provide us the necessary data for us to produce modules on the development of cyclists."
While acting as coach, Sayuti has trusted former national teammate Amirrudin Jamaluddin as one of his key riders. The duo rode as teammates for the national team in the 2005 Sea Games in Manila where they combined to win the team pursuit gold medal and Amirrudin, an Asian Junior Championships triple bronze medallist the previous year, won the silver medal in the individual pursuit.
Amirrudin is based full-time at the UTEM cycling centre and is making his comeback having left the national team in 2008 to pursue his studies.
The MHECFC-UTEM team also has in its line-up Gan Hock Seng, Mohd Zaki Ramlee, Amin Amiruddin and Mohd Amirul Mohd Ali.
Jelajah Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Naim Mohamad said the race organisers had received good feedback on the progress of the MHECFC-UTEM project and had been looking forward to giving them their Jelajah Malaysia debut.
"When Sayuti informed me that the team were ready to compete in Jelajah Malaysia, I had no second thoughts about it. I told him they were one of the teams we were so looking forward to having. This is a very interesting project initiated by the Ministry of Higher Education, which opens up a new horizon for cycling in the country," said Datuk Naim at the NAZA Group press conference this afternoon where they announced their sponsorship of the ASIAN blue jersey.
Also present at the ceremony were YB Dato’ Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, the Minister for Youth and Sports and also Datuk Wira Haji SM Faisal SM Nasimuddin, the Joint Group Executive Chairman of NAZA Group of Companies.
"With a university programme actually studying and going very deep into cycling, this is something that will benefit the sport as a whole in the future."
For the Jelajah Malaysia 2011, NAZA Group will be contributing 54 Chevrolet Captiva SUVs and also 55 Harley Davidson motorcycles.
The Jelajah Malaysia, which began in 1963, is the country's oldest existing cycling stage race and will comprise six stages taking moving from the start on March 8 in Kota Iskandar, Johor around the South then moving to the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia, before heading to the West Coast where the finish will be in Nilai on March 13.