Shinichi Fukushima, the only Japanese rider to have won the Tour of Japan to date (in 2004), has put an end to a 17-year long pro cycling career riding the Japan Cup for Nippo-De Rosa on Sunday.
Born in September 1971, he was often introduced as the Asian version of Jens Voigt for his longevity and his combative riding style. "At age of 42, it is a little difficult to find time to study but I still want to learn new things from cycling while applying what I've learned," said Fukushima in an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews. "I guess this is my excuse to stop racing now."
Fukushima became a household name in France as well as in Japan for being a leader for most of his younger compatriots who have pursued their dream of becoming a pro cyclist in the past fifteen years. His pre-season training camps in Thailand, where his wife and mother of four is from, have become famous in the Asian cycling community.
"I started my professional career after winning a big amateur race [Circuit des deux provinces] in France at age 24," he recalled. "I had 17 tremendous years racing mostly in Europe and Asia. I was also very fortunate to have my brother Koji joining me later in my cycling career. I have some great memories racing together with him."
The Fukushima brothers were famous for entertaining the crowds at starting areas and attacking from the gun. Each of them was among the first Asians to win a stage at Le Tour de Langkawi (Koji in 2005, Shinichi in 2007).
"They are our most memorable victories," Shinichi said. "From my first participation to this race in 2001 to the last one this year as a member of the team winning the overall classification with Julian Arredondo, Malaysia has a special place in my heart. I've had Malaysian teammates [in the Terengganu team in 2011 and 2012] telling me they got their inspiration to cycling by watching us on TV racing Le Tour de Langkawi."
The comment includes Yukiya Arashiro who might not have had the successful career he's got with Europcar if Fukushima hadn't been there to help him. "I'm very proud of Yukiya, but I can't take credit for launching his career," the Nagano-born rider moderated. "I only gave him opportunities to start cycling and racing in Europe; after that, he achieved his results and moved up to next level with his own ability. Not only he adapted to racing in France, he also adapted to the local culture and learned French, established good relations with local people. I think that is very important for someone who wishe to become a big rider in Europe, it is not just cycling that he must learn but also the life abroad which can be harder than cycling. Yukiya is the best example for Asian riders."
Fukushima's duty as a teacher won't stop with retirement from racing. He's set to pursue his involvement in cycling by becoming an assistant coach for continental team La Pomme Marseille. "My ultimate goal is to create a professional team and get a start at the Tour de France," he added. "I did not have the ability nor the opportunity to do it as a rider but I want to take Asian riders to that level in the future."