Tour de France likely for two Japanese riders

It appears increasingly likely that two Japanese riders will take to the Tour de France startline in Monaco on July 4 this year. Yukiya Arashiro has placed himself in contention for selection in Bbox Bouygues Telecom's Tour team after finishing 11th in stage two of the Dauphiné, while compatriot Fumiyuki Beppu has rejoined his Skil-Shimano team-mates for a 10-day altitude training camp in Austria.

Both know their deadline: "After the Dauphiné, I'll fly back home to Japan for the first time since Le Tour de Langkawi in February," said Arashiro. "I'll ride the Japanese championship on June 28, the same day as in the European countries and I'll wait for a phone call in the evening. If I make the Tour team, I'll fly back to France for the Tour, otherwise I'll stay in Japan on holiday."

Needless to say, Asahiro prefers the first option. He won't race against Beppu at the national championship, the former Discovery Channel rider opting to stay in Europe until the start of the Tour de France. Beppu has the Route du Sud scheduled as his final preparation. "On June 29, I'll know if I ride the Tour or not," he explained.

In Beppu's case, it's rumoured that the Shimano company insisted the squad includes one Japanese rider - the other option being Yokihiro Doi - although the latter doesn't possess the same experience as Beppu, who rode for Discovery Channel from 2005 to 2007. Last year's Asian champion has enjoyed a good European season thus far, the highlight being a breakaway with Christophe Moreau during Flèche Wallonne. "My directeur sportif says he's happy with my work as a team-mate and as a breakaway rider," said Beppu.

At Bbox-Bouygues Telecom meanwhile, team management is delighted with Arashiro's consistent performances: 10th in GP Denain, 10th in the Trophée des Grimpeurs, ninth overall at the Four Days of Dunkirk. "I'm going pretty well", the modest Arashiro, who is in his first year with the French Pro Tour team, admitted. When he joined the squad in December from Meitan-Hompo, he already positioned himself as a potential Tour de France rider.

"Maybe Beppu has more chances to get selected than me because he's one out of 12 in the pre-selection of Skil-Shimano; I'm one out of 15 at Bbox-Bouygues Telecom," he said. It could be a huge media boost for the Tour de France to have Japanese riders lined up in Monaco. At the Dauphiné, a TV station (Cyclo Image) has a crew following Arashiro everywhere while another channel, J-Sport, is broadcasting the entire race.

Shall one or both of them get selected, it wouldn't be a first for Japan. In 1996, Daisuke Imanaka started the Tour for Polti and didn't make the time cut on stage 14, but the pioneer is Kisso Kawamuro, who joined the peloton twice as a touriste-routier (individual without a team). On both occasions in 1926 and 1927, he pulled out during the first stage. Beppu and/or Arashiro are in contention to become the first Japanese rider to finish the Tour, something they are both capable of achieving while doing a good job for their team.

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