For Johan Museeuw the steppes of Mongolia are a long way from his native Belgium, but the former World road champion is part of a program that will see riders from the Asian nation compete at next year's cyclo-cross World championships in Tábor, Czech Republic.
Museeuw, who started his own bicycle company after retiring from professional cycling in 2004, has agreed to provide both equipment and guidance to the Mongolian national cyclo-cross team. He travelled to Mongolia in early July to confirm the sponsorship arrangements and while there worked to coach members of the team in specific cyclo-cross skills.
"It all started with a phone call from the Mongolian cycling federation, who asked if I would consider providing bikes for the team," Museeuw told Het Nieuwsblad on Thursday. "Soon there was a proposal on the table to also provide support as a sporting directeur. Before I knew it, I was in Mongolia to select four riders for the cyclo-cross World championships."
Museeuw said that members of the team will travel to France later this month in order to train and allow coaches to assess their progress, before heading to Belgium in November to compete in races leading up to the Worlds in January.
He said that, for him, the cultural exchange had so far been rewarding and was likely to continue as the local riders gained their first experience of European conditions. "The Mongols are very happy, they do not have a great many possessions and they are one with nature," he said. "For me it was a culture shock, but for them it will be a shock when they are staying with a Flemish family."
There was one aspect of Mongolian culture that Museeuw told Het Nieuwsblad he hoped to adjust for members of the team: Their diet. "[I told them] that they must drink less vodka," he said. "They consume litres of cola and vodka and eat a lot of horse flesh too. It is especially the attitude to vodka that will be difficult to change, as it's such a firm part of their culture."
Despite the hurdles that the Mongolian riders will have to overcome before the World championships, Museeuw did offer an indication of where he hopes the team can finish in Tábor.
"The team can already compete to a good standard in Asia, but they will have to be patient when they step up to the European level of racing," he said. "I am being realistic. If they can finish in the top thirty at the World championships then I will be satisfied."
The UCI's Elite World cyclo-cross championships for men and women will take place on January 31, 2010, in Tábor, Czech Republic.
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