As the Asia Tour becomes increasingly appealing for the ProTeams, Saxo Bank was the first to answer the call of the newly upgraded UCI 2.1-ranked Tour de Taiwan. Even though the event was created in 1987, it remains fairly new on the international calendar where it first appeared in 2005 as a category 2.2 race. The Danish outfit's Tour de Taiwan campaign included Takashi Miyazawa holding the yellow jersey for one stage plus two stage victories from their Australian sprinting recruit Jonathan Cantwell.
"At first when we joined the event in Taipei last week, myself and the whole team were shocked by the differences between European races and Asia," directeur sportif Bradley McGee told Cyclingnews after the finish in Kaohsiung. "Everything feels different. But soon enough, we realized that these slight differences in terms of organization and racing were of no major importance. It's like French cuisine and Asian cuisine: it tastes different but it's food and it's good quality."
The morning following their arrival from Europe, the Saxo Bank riders were invited to a press conference that actually consisted of tasting Taiwanese food. "The feeling about racing in Asia is: it's on the up and it's going somewhere," McGee said. "There's a useful enthusiasm from the spectators, the organizers and the old riders on the Asia Tour. They're quite amazing at 40 [years old].
"It's a big change from Europe's aging organizers and bored journalists mixed with a less than juvenile spectator base… Here we race through zones of school children playing drums rather than in front of pension houses or retirement villages in Europe."
McGee and the Saxo Bank squad were impressed with their debut experience in Taiwan.
"Looking at the racing at the Tour de Taiwan, there was a great parcours every day," the 2003 winner of the prologue of the Tour de France and 2004 Olympic champion for team pursuit said. "There was a high standard of cyclists as far as skills and abilities. It was better than I expected, I must admit. I've seen stand-out performances, also, from Asian riders like Wong Kam Po, Feung Chun Kai, Adiq Hussainie… These guys know what they're doing and they do it well.
"It took all our focus to succeed with two stage wins. It's never easy to be the number one team and Saxo Bank was looked at as the only ProTeam at the race, so we had to pay attention to details and ride aggressively to achieve this goal of two stage wins that we set. We've had to work really hard for it."
On the last day, Volodimir Gustov had even been the virtual leader of the Tour de Taiwan prior to a regrouping highly wanted by the sprinters. It paved the way for Cantwell's second successful bunch gallop after stage 4 in Taichung. "I'm willing to discuss a return to the Tour de Taiwan, shall the dates fit our schedule again in the coming years and the organizers being keen to continue to improve," said McGee prior to sending his riders back to Europe for the Classics.
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