On Friday’s stage at the USA Pro Challenge, Champion System Pro Cycling Team’s Biao Liu ignited the main break that stayed away for 175 of the 189.7-km stage.
Going into the stage, Champion System General Manager Ed Beamon said he wanted one of his three Chinese riders to get into the early break. Shortly after the official start, four-time Chinese national road champion Liu escaped and then stayed with the dwindling break at they climbed Hoosier Pass. Riding with ProTour veterans like Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) provided Liu with a priceless learning experience, he said.
“The main purpose for me to break away with them was to learn from the world’s top riders,” Liu said. “I’m very glad that I stayed in.”
Beamon said that all the Chinese riders have improved since the beginning of the season and Liu’s attack today showed just how much.
“At the start of the year Liu would have been dropped on the descent off Hoosier Pass,” Beamon said after stage 5. “Today he was right there with them and then at the bottom he was swapping turns on the flats.”
And that is the mission of the first Asian-based UCI Professional Continental Team registered in China.
“The point and idea philosophically behind the team is to help develop these Asian riders, more specifically the Chinese guys, to give them an opportunity to grow and to get themselves to a higher level.” Beamon told podiuminsight.
At the same time, the 18 riders on the team roster represent a total of ten countries – Australia, Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Hong Kong, Malaysia, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United States as well as China.
“We are so diverse. One of the intriguing aspect of the team when we were racing in Belgium or France or Asia or even in America is that the roster is so international that it’s really unique. There are so many races that we started, we’ll start with seven or eight guys, every guy from the team is from a different country.” said Beamon who added that people are intrigued by the international nature of the team, especially in Europe.
For the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge, the team brought three riders from China, Pengda Jiao, Gang Xu and Liu as well as Americans Chris Butler and Craig Lewis, Australians Will Clarke and Cameron Wurf and Matthias Friedemann of Germany. (Read more about Lewis: Lewis Is Getting Stronger Day by Day)
Given the depth of the field, the team came in with “realistic” goals, and that is to get into breakaways. Though the altitude forced a few of the team to abandon earlier this week, Liu is once again in a breakaway on stage 6 while Lewis represented earlier this week.
For Beamon it’s also important to fly the flag for their two sponsors, Champion and Fuji Bikes. “The American market is a great market to have the opportunity to represent both those brands here in the States is important for the team, it’s very rewarding and gratifying.”
The diversity in culture, including language, is the biggest challenge for the team. “The Chinese guys themselves come from four different provinces in China, and as you know Chinese culture is very diverse so they’re not all the same type of guy and then we have the Hong Kong guys which speak a different language entirely.”
“The Chinese guys themselves come from four different provinces in China, and as you know Chinese culture is very diverse so they’re not all the same type of guy and then we have the Hong Kong guys which speak a different language entirely.”
So the team counts on the assistance of rider Kin San Wu of Hong Kong and administrative assistant Zhe “Sharon” Shi.
Beamon continued, “Kin San speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and English so he can facilitate on the road but Sharon really is the main link in helping us communicate so she sits in on all our team meetings when the team is together.”
That works well before and after a race, but what happens during the racing especially with no race radio? At the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge, Shi sat in one of the team cars and relayed Beamon’s orders to the Chinese riders when she could.
“During the bike race on the road is probably the most difficult to communicate because the riders themselves have to use very limited language and a little bit of sign language and a wink and a nod really to get ideas across, and the idea you want to communicate doesn’t always get across.”
But Beamon admits that there has been some miscommunication and the team has not been able to do what they wanted to do. “But as we’re together more, as we spend more time around one another, like any team, we get to know one another better and you get a sense of the feeling and non-verbal communication becomes more valuable.”
“The other thing that Sharon brings besides being able to speak the language and translate basically, she’s always able to help everybody understand cultural and emotional and different feelings that are going on. It’s really an important part of how we’ve been able to slowly build a team out of it.”
Another important of culture is food. Food and diet are very important as an athlete, and at the same time, food is not only important to a culture but also is somewhat of a reflection of a culture too.
“Most of the Asian guys on the team have spent enough time internationally racing even if it’s mostly in Asia that they’ve been exposed to a lot of Western foods and so they’re reasonably comfortable with the typical food that an athlete will eat. Everybody is pretty comfortable with noodles.” laughed Beamon.
“I think the bigger challenge and transition is for the Western guys, when they’re in Asia, it’s an entirely different cuisine and in some cases, it’s so foreign that it’s intimidating.”
So to ease the transition, the team introduced local cuisine to the riders. “We did several different colloquial dinner type, where we had some food that honest to God, I don’t think Sharon ate.” he said with a laugh. “Stuff that some of the tourists might never get to see. Different guys embrace it at different level but the opportunity to get exposed to all that before the season started.”
By the time, the team raced in Asia, the riders were comfortable and they didn’t have any problems.
The team’s race schedule started with the Tour of Qatar in February and included the Tour of Langkawi, semi-classics in Belgium and Tour of Qinghai Lake where Cameron Wurf finished second overall, the the best result in a stage race for Asia’s first pro continental team.
Such an international schedule brings a different style of racing almost per country and per region. “Asian racing is different and Asia is very large so you can’t say that all Asian racing is the same but typically in an Asian race with mostly Asian teams, it’s a lot more aggressive and a lot more of a free for all because you don’t so many developed teams where they’re really focusing on team strategy.”
Beamon concluded, “That’s part of the idea this team, it is to help being a little bit more of that traditional cycling mentality to our Asian riders.”