By Steve Thomas
The Japanese Shinichi and Koji Fukushima brothers are virtual cycling legends in Asia. The two riders prepared for the Tour de Langkawi in the north of Thailand and are a regular fixture at many races, including the Tour de Langkawi, one of their favourite races. The King's Cup race was to serve as preparation for this year's Tour de Langkawi.
A few years ago, brother Koji made a name for himself with a memorable solo stage win, but he was a little less optimistic about this year's Tour de Langkawi. "Well, I've done about 30% less training than normal at this time of the year, and I know my form is not good."
"I seem to need more training than the other riders, so it's unlikely that I will perform well," he said, "but I will, of course, try! My plan is to be on top form for the second half of the season in Europe."
Trying is something in Koji's nature. He has always been known for his constant attacking. "Maybe I could get more results by playing it differently, but this is my style, and I want to keep it that way." It's a style that wins much admiration and the hearts of many as does his natural warmth and eccentricity, both of which give him a charm of his own.
The brothers were in Chiang Rai with their entire Meitan Hompo team for a pre-season training camp, largely under the impetus of Shinichi, a part-time resident of the region.
"I came here four years ago," said Shinichi. "My old coach and manager bought a small resort and said it was good for training. I brought Koji over, and then it just grew from there. We've been coming for training ever since. There are 20 of us in all at the moment."
Shinichi's love affair with this part of Thailand runs far deeper than simply training; "It's great here. I got married to a local girl in January and spend a lot of my time here. I hope we can stay here when I finish racing." An end to his racing career is far off; in fact, his involvement with Thai cycling and its development grow every day.
"I'm going to be 37 years-old this year, but I still really want to race at the top level," he said, "so I will not be stopping yet, I think as long as your head is still good you can do it.
"I also really want to help develop Thai and Asian cycling in general," said Shinichi. "There are some great riders here. But the system is as it is with many federations – not great; so I am trying to help Thai riders to develop and get them to Europe. They are very tough and strong.
"If I can get one, then two, then fifty Asian riders to Europe, it will really boost Asian cycling. But all they know about Europe is a two-hour video of the Tour de France. With the current growth rate, I think there is no reason that we cannot build an entire Asian team to compete in the Tour within a few years. That would really set the sport alight here. This is my goal," finished Shinichi.
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