Speaking to Cyclingnews ahead of the Tour of Taihu Lake (November 5-12), China's first ever ProTour rider Li Fuyu (Discovery Channel 2007 and RadioShack 2010) is full of praise for his protégé, Wang Meiyin, who has been signed by Bahrain-Merida for the next two years.
He'll be the fifth rider from China to join cycling's top tier after Ji Cheng (Giant-Alpecin), who retired at the end of the Tour of Hainan last Sunday, Xing Yandong, who briefly joined him at Argos-Shimano in 2013, and Xu Gang, whose future is uncertain after three years with Lampre-Merida.
The new Chinese TJ Sport takeover of the Lampre-Merida team is yet to announce any Chinese recruits, but Wang will be able to speak Mandarin in the peloton with Orica-BikeExchange's Cheung King Lok from Hong Kong and his future teammate Feng Chung Kai from Taiwan.
Wang will take part in the Tour of Taihu Lake and the Tour of Fuzhou (November 16-20) with his current team Wisdom-Hengxiang, directed by Fuyu, before heading to Europe for the first time ever to meet up with Bahrain-Merida at their December training camp.
"I wish Meiyin the best of luck," Fuyu said. "He's really professional and I'm sure he'll deliver a good show in the pro races as much as he's done with us for the past six years. He's definitely China's best cyclist ever.
"He's been approached by big teams before, like Orica-GreenEdge and Giant-Shimano, especially after the 2013 Tour de Langkawi [stage 3 winner in the Cameron Highlands, King of the Mountains, 5th overall and best Asian rider], but this is the first time that we have had a face to face discussion with a team. The request came from the head manager of Merida in China before the Chinese national championships in September. After I talked with [team manager] Brent Copeland, I'm convinced Meiyin will have a good chance to express his potential at the highest level."
Cheng Ji paved the way as the first Chinese cyclist to have completed all three Grand Tours (Vuelta a España 2012, Tour de France 2014, Giro d'Italia 2015 and 2016). In an interview with Cyclingnews during the 2013 Tour of Turkey, he said: "I might not be the most talented cyclist from the country but I want to show everyone that a Chinese can also do the job providing that he acts as a professional. I'm doing these Grand Tours to give inspiration to my compatriots."
Fuyu is certain that Wang will follow in Ji's footsteps in riding the biggest race of them all,
"Meiyin will probably take part in the Tour de France one year. I don't know which year, but it won't be only to finish it; he'll ride for the podium, whether it's to get a jersey or a stage victory," he said.
"But he can first work for [Vincenzo] Nibali. I hope he'll do the Giro or the Vuelta next year. He'll discuss his program with the team in December."
Cyclingnews understands that Wang is set to debut his pro career in January with the Santos Tour Down Under, which will mark the big return of Peter Sagan where it all started for him in 2010.
"Meiyin does well in the hot weather," Fuyu added. "In the Shandong province, we have four seasons so he can race under any condition. The cold in Europe won't be a problem for him. I won't be his coach anymore. I'm sure he can improve his cycling under a good coach at Bahrain-Merida. With more training, he'll become stronger.
"For a Chinese rider, being 27 year old is not too late for turning pro. He's got five to ten great seasons ahead of him."
Fuyu is also adamant that his protégé will easily overcome the language barrier. In an interview with Cyclingnews after his fourth place at the 2011 Tour of Hainan, Wang declared his priority was to learn English and to understand the cycling world better but five years later the progress has yet to be heard.
"I'll talk to him if his feelings aren't good but after two or three months based in Italy, he'll be able to speak with everyone over there," a very optimistic Fuyu concluded.
As for Wang's replacement at Wisdom-Hengxiang, it's all organised. Zhao Jingbiao, 21, will be given the leadership. "He was very young when he became the Chinese national champion in 2014," Fuyu noted. "He became a bit lazy after he achieved that. But now he's mature and you'll see him in the WorldTour also in one or two years time."
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