I first met Fumiyuki (Fumy) Beppu in 2005. He was freshly signed by Discovery Channel from the high-powered French team VC La Pomme. Johan Brunyeel wanted a Japanese rider and Beppu was the best Japanese rider. I was asked by the team’s online writer, Cathy Mehl, to help translate an interview for their team site. I found Beppu absolutely charming. He was quite excited about riding with a professional team and very determined to be the best. In all the years since that first conversation, there has been little change. He remains one of the nicest riders in the professional peloton and he is still determined to be the best.
After Discovery Channel, Beppu rode for two years with Skil-Shimano. He then returned to Brunyeel and rode, until recently, with Team RadioShack. In the summer of 2011, GreenEDGE reached out to Beppu.
“GreenEDGE contacted me at the end of June, after I completed the Giro,” stated Beppu. “At the time, I still wanted to stay with RadioShack. I contacted RadioShack and they also wanted me to stay, but RadioShack merged with Leopard TREK and everything changed. There were too many riders on the new merged team. Nobody knew about the merger for a while. I was so surprised by it. After the merger I contacted GreenEDGE. I wanted to see if they were still interested. They immediately said that I was welcomed. I felt pretty happy to join my new team. GreenEDGE management has a vision to create an Australian dream team. The team is quite motivated to do well. I am happy to be part of that.”
“I hope to do more stage races next year,” continued Beppu. “I used to love doing the Classics the most. I loved riding Paris-Roubaix. Recently I have been concentrating on becoming a better stage racer. I have a Belgium coach, Marc Lamber. He told me that I have potential to be a good stage racer. I have worked with him for about a year now. My goal still remains a stage win in the Tour de France. I will probably do the Giro again, plus there is also the Olympics”
“The Japanese Olympic Committee announced at the end of October that I will be on the Olympic team. Since I am assured a spot on the national team I do not need to stress and can focus on racing and training. The Olympics are important for my country. For the Beijing Games I was told only 2 months before the Games began that I would be racing for Japan. That was quite stressful. I can now work the Olympics in my schedule.”
A key reason why Beppu was included on the National team early was because he once again captured both the Time Trial and Road National Titles in 2011. The last time he won both was in 2006.
“Usually it’s difficult to travel back to Japan from Europe to race in my National Championship races. I felt I needed to do something last year. I was in pretty good shape after completing the Giro. If I race the national championships then I feel I must win. I was the only Japanese Pro Tour rider. I felt I must not lose…I can’t lose. I went out and won.”
GreenEDGE has so far scheduled the Tour du Haut Var and the Vuelta Mallorca in February for Beppu.
A defining moment in Beppu’s career was completing the Tour de France in 2009. It was always a dream of his to race the Tour. For the first time in Japanese professional cycling history, not one but two Japanese cyclists completed the Tour. Yukiya Arashiro also completed the Tour that year.
“It was so amazing to finish the Tour de France because it is my dream race. I tried to get in a breakaway and finally on the last day I was able to stay away until the end. Many spectators there were cheering. My dream remains to win a stage but finishing the Tour just made me feel so great. I was told that back in Japan people were crying. People were so happy to see me ride and finish the Tour. Many fans were overwhelmed. The last stage was so beautiful. Everyone knows Contador and Armstrong but no one knows Beppu…and on the last day they saw me in the break. My family were in Paris and they were all crying. I wanted to make sure and do my best for them.”
Beppu was awarded the combative award for best individual performance in the final stage of the 2009 Tour.
Though Beppu has lived in southern France for over a decade, on March 11. 2011, Beppu felt the pain of his country. Japan was struck by a historic 8.9 earthquake, followed by an extraordinarily destructive tsunami and partial meltdowns at three nuclear reactors.
“Everyone told me to watch TV, to see what happened. It felt like I was watching a computer graphic special effects…like I was watching a movie. I couldn’t believe it was real. I do not have any family in that region but I was in deep shock. Since I am in Europe I wanted to send a message to my fellow Japanese that they were not alone. That I was thinking of Japan…that the whole world was thinking of Japan. I decided to start the wristband campaign. My family was safe but many people in the north were suffering. Japan is my country. I thought of Hitorijanai – You Are NOT Alone.”
Over 15,000 fans showed their support by wearing the white band and placing a white twibbon on their Twitter avatar.
Beppu has been encouraged to see more interest in cycling in Asia, and more Asian riders racing.
Not all in the European peloton view the use of UCI points positively. Thor Hushvold has been very vocal about the use of UCI points in signing riders. He does not believe the UCI should give a race like the Tour of Beijing World Tour status. Though Marc Sargeant of Lotto-Ridley was upfront about signing Iranian Mehdi Sohrabi, winner of the 2011 Asia Tour. Sohrabi’s UCI points made him a valuable commodity.
Beppu commented, “The riders are more international now. It’s good for all Asian riders. There are more possibilities for Asian riders. You still have to come to Europe to learn. Next year there are Iranian riders in the Pro Tour thanks to the UCI points. Teams need the Asian UCI points. It helps the non-European riders.”
With the constant exposure in the Japanese media, Beppu is very much a public figure back home.
“When I am home in Japan, I am now followed and stopped all of the time. The police now help me with the crowds. I can’t shop by myself in Japan. I love seeing my family and I do love seeing so many Japanese fans get excited about cycling. The crowds are tough but it makes me happy that cycling is getting popular in Japan.”