Cycling discovers China

The first of January 2007 marked the beginning of a whole new chapter in professional cycling, with...

An interview with Fuyu Li, January 9, 2007

Discovery Channel broke new ground when it become the first ProTour team to ever sign a Chinese rider, with its announced last year that Fuyu Li will ride for the outfit in 2007. Cyclingnews' Steve Thomas caught up with the Asian rider at the Tour of South China Sea in Hong Kong, Li's last event before officially joining his new ProTour home.

The first of January 2007 marked the beginning of a whole new chapter in professional cycling, with the signing of Chinese rider Fuyu Li to the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team.

Over the years there have been just a handful of riders from Asia making it through to the pro ranks. Yet, despite the sports international nature, never before has a rider from the world's most populated nation, China, been signed as a professional.

The saying 'The Chinese are coming', which has applied to all economic aspects of the country for nearly two decades, can now, finally, be used in sporting terms. With the 2008 Beijing Olympic games now just a stone's throw away, the country is fanatical about sporting success. Through state funded sports institutes China is blossoming and it's athletes are finally coming out of the ranks to win world class events.

Li now looks set to open the door to between China and the rest of the cycling world.

While cracking the Chinese market is a huge ambition of any multinational, you can be sure that Discovery/Trek's signing of Li is no token promotional stunt. Li is a very gifted and talented all-rounder, who has the drive and ability to succeed in the mainstream European peletons.

CN:Who is Fuyu Li?
FL: I'm 28 years-old, from near Beijing. I've been racing since '94, and training full time for most of that [period].

CN: What is your cycling history?
FL: I got accepted by the sports institute a long time ago and have been only cycling since then. For years in China I raced everything road, track, mountain bike - too much I think. I always had the same results and was not progressing, so decided that I either had to stop, or do everything I could to get to race in Europe. I did everything I could and then got in touch with Marco Polo.

CN: What have you been doing with Marco Polo?
FL: They have helped me so much, and I have really progressed. Last year I won the Tour of Thailand - the first time a Chinese rider has ever won such a race. I also spent some time in Europe - only 35 days - and won two small races, one in Germany and one in Belgium.

CN: How did the Discovery contract come around?
FL:
Marco Polo and Trek arranged it all. I really hoped something would happen, but was so surprised and happy when it came together - I didn't sleep the whole night when I heard the news.

CN: Is it big news in China?
FL:
Not really. I think I have to start racing and get some results before anybody notices.

CN: Have you met your new team-mates yet?
FL:
In December I went for a few days to Austin. It was a small training camp for the new team members and a couple of the existing riders. We met and hung out with Lance Armstrong, [he's] a really good guy.

CN: What are the teams plans for you?
FL:
In January I go to California for the training camp, that is when I will learn what they want from me and what races I will be doing. I think for new riders they usually like to keep them racing in Spain to start with, and then build up.

CN: What exactly are you good at on the bike?
FL:
I'm an all-rounder; I can climb pretty well, sprint fairly well, and am not too bad in time trials.

CN: What are your hopes and goals for your new team?
FL:
I have a small contract for one year. So I hope to be able to improve and get some results and to earn myself a longer and better contract and to build from there.

CN: Where do you expect to be based?
FL:
I don't really know yet, I stayed in Holland with Marco polo before, so hope that maybe they can help me find somewhere.

CN: Are there a lot of riders of your level in China?
FL:
There are many strong riders, but lots of them stop racing because they lose interest. There are big stage races, but they don't get the chance to improve by racing with the Europeans.

CN: Language has always been a barrier for Chinese riders, what about you?
FL:
I am not so good at English, but am studying hard. Like riding a bike, if you want to achieve, you have to work hard. Then I hope to also learn a little French; I think in cycling it is important.

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