Cheng Ji (Giant-Shimano) made it to the finish of the first Alpine stage of the Tour de France just behind the gruppetto after again helping his teammates Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb during the long day in the saddle.
Cheng is the first ever Chinese rider in the Tour de France and is determined to make it all the way to Paris despite his difficult, but humble, task of chasing breakaways so his teammates can try to win sprint stage.
Cheng is an example of the many different stories that are hidden away, undiscovered in the peloton, and not often seen or appreciated because stage winners, jersey wearers and other protagonists get the spotlight and glory.
Yet Cheng deserves praise for surviving one of the toughest ever first week half of the Tour de France. He has worked hard for his Giant-Shimano teammates and so was worried about struggling in the Alps. But he finished 162nd of 173 riders left in the Tour, still close to Kittel and Degenkolb.
"We've been working hard and so I'm tired but I'm hoping to be okay and get through the Alps and start thinking about reaching Paris," Cheng told Cyclingnews.
"It's been special for me as the first Chinese rider in the Tour. As a kid, even in China, we watch the race and to be here is a dream come true. I don’t think it's true sometimes but it's a nice feeling."
"I don’t think I'm under pressure to finish the Tour, I've done my job and we've had a successful Tour, so I've no regrets. But I'd love to make it."
The Breakaway Killer
Cheng has earned the nickname of 'Breakaway Killer' from his Giant-Shimano teammates for his task of doing the early work in stages and making sure the breakaway of the day don’t open enough of a lead to be able to stay clear and fight for the stage victory. His work has paid off three times so far, with Marcel Kittel winning sprints in Harrogate, London and Lille.
"I like the nickname of Breakaway killer," Cheng told Cyclingnews.
"It's my job. I have to keep the break under control by riding hard on the front and doing the early work. Not only on the flat stages for Marcel but also on the hilly stages because John (Degenkolb) can have a chance of victory. On Thursday when Marcel crashed we waited to for him and ensured he finished inside the time limit. People perhaps don't see that kind of work and won't see me in the mountains but I'm working hard."
Cheng describes Kittel's victory in Harrogate as his best moment so far in the Tour. He is proud to have earned the respect of lots of other riders in the peloton for his riding.
"The very first day, when Marcel won in Harrogate was special. After he won, he shook my hand and said 'Good job man' and we had a glass of champagne together," Cheng recalled.
"I've also made a lot friends in the peloton. Riders have to come to me and said 'Good job Cheng' or even 'F*ck! You've been pulling so hard that I was suffering behind'. That's nice and makes me proud to have done my job and to be proud to be at the Tour."
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