By Steve Thomas
Continental Team Meitan Hompo has spent their main racing seasons based in southwestern France, returning to their native Japan only for major races. The team, managed by Akira Asada, occasionally raced in other regional Asian races, too. It often worked to help develop younger riders.
The team has grown slowly but surely in stature and strength over the years, and hopes to continue growing still further in 2009. Asada himself was one of the first Japanese riders in the European peloton. His experience and in-depth knowledge of the mainstream pro scene has played a huge part in the team's structure and progress.
For many years the Fukushima brothers, Shinichi and Koji, were very successful on their own in France. Then Fumyuki Beppu got a contract with Discovery Channel. The Fukushimas joined forces with Asada, and gradually more and more Japanese riders began to make the big step into Europe. The Japanese presence is increasing, with Meitan Hompo's former National Champion Yukiya Arashiro graduating in 2009 to the Bouygues Telecom Pro Tour team. He is only the second Japanese rider signed to a ProTour team.
In the past two seasons the Meitan team has stretched out to include other talented Asian riders too. That trend is set to continue in 2009 when they take a Korean rider on board, another first in pro cycling. The rider has yet to be named, but it is said to be Joon Yong Seo, who rode as a “trainee” with the team in late 2008.
The team has high hopes of building an Asian ProTour level team over the next years, and has also taken the unusual step of signing three French riders for 2009, whose names will be confirmed soon.
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Images by Steve Thomas