Teamwork is so integral in cycling that when you ask Calvin Sim for his most down moment as an athlete, it’s of him watching his fellow cyclist lying in a pool of blood after being hit by a sand truck.

While his teammate spent a month in the ICU fighting for his life, Sim and the national team flew to Colorado Springs in the US for training camp. But the team was constantly concerned about whether their friend could survive the ordeal.

“Seeing your friend on the floor, with so much blood, you don’t know whether he’s gonna live or not. It’s not nice,” said Sim.

His teammate made it through and still cycles, but he has no recollection of Sim talking to him as they waited for help to arrive that fatal day.

Sim’s first SEA Games was almost his last

Sim thought he would be done with competitive cycling at the age of 30.

After qualifying for the 2017 SEA Games track cycling team, lack of equipment was a pressing issue. There weren’t enough racing wheels to go around for everyone to train at the same time. The team relied heavily on seniors such as 2013 SEA Games champion Dinah Chan for equipment, which the team swapped around regularly.

Then Sim won Singapore’s first track cycling gold in 20 years at the 2017 Games.

Sim is 30 this year, but he’s busy getting ready for another SEA Games instead of hanging up his cleats.

“Without this spexScholarship, we wouldn’t be doing this interview already,” said Sim with a smile.

He’s come a long way from his obese childhood days when he struggled to find an even playing field in sports to keep up with his friends. At 15, an 87kg Sim signed up for his first competition, a mountain bike race. Thereafter, he joined the OCBC cycling team in 2009. He’s remained in the high-performance scene since, frequently travelling to Malaysia or the Southeast Asia region. Sometimes, the occasional Europe competition in Belgium or France, where Sim revels in the cooler weather and the deeply embedded cycling culture.

Barely two months out from the Games, Sim shocked his followers when he posted a photo of him hooked to a drip in the hospital. Food poisoning took him out of training for five to six days, and he struggled to convince the airport staff that he was healthy enough to survive the flight to Malaysia for training camp.

“I was going to the toilet 20 times a day, I felt light-headed and was in a cold sweat at the airport,” recalled Sim.

Three weeks after the health scare, Sim finished among the top ten at the Asian Cycling Championships, a key race for Olympic qualification in the omnium. Tick one for personal goal checked, tick a couple more for practising good race tactics.

So…track or road?

There’s no track cycling at this year’s SEA Games, so Sim will feature in road cycling this time with team captain Goh Choon Huat, Chua Wee Siong, Jerome Teo and Yeo Boon Kiak.

Still, Sim has travelled frequently this year seeking Olympic qualification in the omnium event. This is his first year juggling training for both track and road at an international level. Track demands maximum intensity in just a few minutes; road commands a sustained high intensity over an hour.

As a full-time athlete, Sim dedicates 25-30 hours a week to training. Pre-dawn rides, which can last 2-3 hours on weekdays and 4-5 hours on the weekend; another 2-3 hours in the gym for either weights training or power-based intervals on the watt bike. Double sessions are practically bread and butter in his training schedule, designed by Rizal Tisin.

Sim credits his mother, head of his single-parent family, for being one of his biggest supporters. She doesn’t accompany him to his races – Sim chalks it up to a “different generation” whereby she shows her support by putting his favourite food on the table and not objecting to him cycling full-time.

“She saw a change in me, from being an obese kid to being more focused. That really sparked her to also change her lifestyle (by preparing healthier meals) to help me,” said Sim. “Hopefully, I can bring back good results.”

So after an intensive year of training for both track and road, which one does Sim love?

“Track,” replied Sim without hesitation.

Calvin Sim

Calvin Sim, 2017 track cycling SEA Games champion, will feature in the road race at the 2019 SEA Games. (Alvin Ho)

Returning to the community that realized his dreams

Sim dreams that his high-performance journey will culminate in a podium finish at the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games.

The 2018 Asian Games was a “crazy eye-opener” for Sim, who realised that he had a long way to go to be competitive with his continental counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea.

But after 2022, that’ll be where he “really finishes.”

“I won’t continue, no matter what. It’s time to move on and do other things,” said Sim.

Other things could be coaching development athletes. Perhaps a bike shop mechanic, which he used to work as before quitting to train full-time as an athlete. Sim isn’t sure yet.

But one thing is certain. He’s intent on giving back to the cycling community, who allowed him to realize his dreams as a high-performance athlete.

“I love cycling too much to do other things. Cycling has given me a lot of things, so I would like to give back,” he said.

Does he think Singapore will ever build a velodrome?

Sim paused.

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”