Young Malaysian cyclist runs to the finish line Down Under
BRISBANE: Some 6,502 km away, among the peloton of Australian cyclists racing down the streets to the finish line, is a young Malaysian leading the pack.
Before fighting men twice the size, Tsen Ren Bao lived with his family in Kuala Lumpur.
“The first year I started running here, I had the impression that: ‘You don’t belong here, get out of my way, this is my race’”, explains the 18 year old young man.
Speaking on the phone with FMT, he recalls that at age 16, he was the only Asian to face Australian runners in his 20s and 30s.
“But as you get results and you start to beat these older guys in the races, they give you more respect.”
Last name Tsen may ring a bell for cycling fans – his father Tsen Seong Hoong is a former national cyclist who won gold at the 1995 SEA Games in Thailand. Under the influence of his father, Ren Bao became interested in competitive cycling at the age of 12.
The Tsen family emigrated to Brisbane in 2016 for better education and better employment prospects. They had no idea that their eldest son would end up pursuing the fast lane life and being coached by an Olympic athlete.
In March, Ren Bao became the first Malaysian to join the Meiyo CCN Continental Cycling Team to undergo professional rider training. He is coached by Jordan Kerby, a former world champion in individual pursuit who will represent New Zealand at the Tokyo Olympics.
And on February 6, Ren Bao left his mark on the roads of Ballarat, Melbourne, when he faced the top Aussies in the National Under-19 Road Championship race.
Seventy-seven of Australia’s top riders had their wheels on the start line, but then Ren Bao overstepped his limit and placed 12th.
The journey was one of the most painful and difficult of his life.
“I’m actually surprised how well I did as I was cramped in the fourth round,” said Ren Bao, adding that he still had five more laps to endure before he could rest. .
“The worst part was I was cramped at the foot of a hill, so I suffered for two full kilometers on that climb.”
As other runners sped past him, he started to fall behind. The idea of breaking a personal best, or even placing himself in the 1930s, went further beyond his reach as excruciating pain stabbed his legs.
But he triumphed over the pain and made a comeback. Thinking about it now, Ren Bao reveals that it was his friend, mentor and father figure Adam Baker who fueled his success.
“I suddenly thought of all the money and time Adam had spent getting me from Brisbane to Melbourne for this race.
“It gave me a boost and I found myself pedaling really hard to get back into the group. “
Baker, who is Meiyo CCN’s assistant sporting director, has been one of Ren Bao’s biggest supporters from the start and has been a huge influence on his journey.
“Words cannot describe him, he was the one who made me who I am today,” says Ren Bao proudly. “He’s always there to watch my races and train with me on the flat ground. He’s basically like my second dad.
A hard worker on and off the track
Halfway through the conversation with FMT, Ren Bao apologizes because he has a client to take care of. The young cyclist takes care of his family’s grocery store in Brisbane, and luckily multitasking is something he knows well.
He gets up every morning at 5 a.m. and has two hours of training before rushing to school. After school ends at 3 p.m., he works in a bicycle store on Tuesdays and Thursdays and spends the other days of the week at the family store until 6 p.m.
Ren Bao’s commitment to this routine keeps him motivated to succeed on the pro circuit.
For all of his accomplishments, Ren Bao has had his fair share of struggles.
“At 16, I wasn’t going anywhere and getting no results. I thought about quitting and I was so demotivated at the time.
Fortunately, he got past that mental block and his bike speeds have been slipping ever since.
Before the conversation ends, Ren Bao shares that he hasn’t been back to Malaysia since 2016 and misses his friends and family. “My stomach is growling for the taste of local foods like nasi lemak and cendol, too,” he laughs.
“When I come back, however, I would love to compete in the SEA Games and represent Malaysia.”