The Mongolian national team will make their first foray into European cyclo-cross competition today at Belgium's Niel Jarmarktcross. The race will be the first stage in a three month lead up to January's cyclo-cross World Championships in Tabor, Czech Republic for the four-strong team.
The Mongolian team will become just the second Asian nation, after Japan, to have riders compete in events on the European cyclo-cross calendar. Bold-Erdene Boldbaatar, 26, Naranbat Ariunbold, 29, Khangarid Naran, 21, and Myagmarsuren Baasankhuu, 18, arrived in Brussels last week for their three-month season.
Although Bold-Erdene Boldbaatar holds the Mongolian National titles for both the road race and individual time trial, the team has few allusions about what to expect when then line up against the likes of cyclo-cross World Champion Niels Albert on Wednesday.
"We're not fooling ourselves," said the team's Belgian manager Tom Lanhove. "We will be struggling at the rear and good results throughout the season will be top-20 spots. My hope for the riders is that they are able to shine and get noticed by bigger, richer, pro-teams. That’s my silent wish for each and everyone of them."
The team's mere presence in Europe is in itself a major accomplishment. Involved in the project since its inception, Lanhove said the team had initially been conceived as a road squad, but cyclo-cross had quickly emerged as a logical fit.
"Instead of competing against the best teams and riders of the world, our riders get to grow inside a niche sport that doesn’t rely on team tactics, but rather on individual prowess," he said. "We could either be a big fish in a small pond in cyclo-cross or a very small one in the big ocean of road racing. For Mongolia, with its few riders and resources, the choice was clear."
The four riders who have made the journey to Europe were selected by Belgian former professional Johan Museeuw during a visit to Mongolia earlier this year. The three-time Paris-Roubaix winner has also provided material support for the team, in the form of his own brand of cyclo-cross bikes.
"It’s not merely a sports project," said Lanhove. "We have selected four promising riders from one of the most isolated countries in the world. For three months they get to live like pros, learn their French/English, make contacts within the sport and experience European life up close."
The team will be based in Brussels and will compete in cyclo-cross races throughout Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France in the coming months. The quartet will also take part in World Cup races, before their season culminates at the World Championships in Tabor on January.
"Our project gives four youngsters the chance of a lifetime to experience this globalised world: that’s something you can’t put a price on," said Lanhove. "The human aspect is, in the long run, the greatest legacy our project can hope to leave to the riders."
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