By Anthony Tan
With the best-placed Chinese rider at recent Tour of Qinghai Lake almost half an hour down on overall winner Maarten Tjallingii, officials concede the only way to improve is to establish Continental teams that compete regularly in international-level races.
"We have to admit that the level of Chinese riders is to be improved," said Jiang Guofeng, secretary-general of the Chinese Cycling Association (CCA), to the China Daily. "As we know, practice makes perfect, yet Chinese riders have hardly any opportunity to do that. We have to send athletes to overseas pro-teams to make them improve in a decent way."
Lucien Bailly, technical advisor of the Tour de Qinghai Lake and a senior officer of UCI, admitted "China needs to professionalise its cycling teams and cyclists in order to be competitive in international cycling races."
Ma Haijun of the Marida Chinese national team was the country's best performer in the 2.HC event that ended a fortnight ago, finishing third on the fifth stage and 25th overall, while national champion Fuyu Li of the Marco Polo Cycling Team was 48th overall.
"You have to compete in professional circuits around the world, otherwise there is no chance to move up for us," said the 28 year-old Li. "To feel the cycling environment in Europe is very important for me. I am expecting to bring it back home and make it benefit all my Chinese counterparts."
Small steps are being made, however. Neo-pros Jin Long and Fang Xu joined Dutch-based squad Skil-Shimano this season, while Li and Yu Tong ride for Marco Polo. In addition, Chinese teams are forming partnerships with bicycle factories, and are inviting senior experts and trainers from top UCI-ranked teams. And just this week, Lampre-Fondital announced stagiaire roles for two Chinese riders: Hong Kong's Wu Kin San and Xu Gang from Shanghai (see separate story).
"CCA aims to make a breakthrough in cycling by adopting professionalism, and it has already been proved to be the best approach," said Wang Xuanqing, CCA vice-president. "It won't be long before China establishes continental teams involved in international races - it's what we have to do," he said.