The world and especially China will be watching when Cheng Ji of Team Giant-Shimano begins the Tour de France in Yorkshire on Saturday July 5.
Ji will make history at this year's Tour de France when he becomes the first Chinese rider to start the most prestigious and most demanding race on the UCI WorldTour calendar.
Ji is part of a strong Giant-Shimano team that also includes German sprinters Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb. Kittel won the four stages in the 2013 Tour de France, including the opening stage in Corsica and the final stage in Paris.
"Together with the team I have worked on a long-term plan to develop and be able to race at the highest level of the sport. This then led to the goal of having the first Chinese rider at the Tour and for that to now actually be happening is amazing,â Ji said.
âIt has been a lot of hard work to get here but with a good programme of training and racing, and having learned a lot from the other riders on the team I have made a step up and I cannot wait to start the Tour and I hope to inspire my compatriots back home in China."
The 26-year-old, whose family live in Beijing, captured the attention of the Chinese media and cycling fans last year at the Tour of Beijing when he made his debut in his home UCI WorldTour event. He rode strongly in support of his team and finished 69th on the general classification.
He started his career as a track rider but then switched to road racing and joined the team in 2009. He rode the Vuelta a Espana Grand Tour in 2012. Last year he also started the Giro d'Italia Grand Tour. Ji has raced the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche Wallone UCI WorldTour one-day Classics races and also the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and Tour of Dubai.
Team Giant-Shimano coach Rudi Kemma said Ji will have an important role at the Tour de France, sacrificing his own chances to help Kittel and Degenkolb in the sprints.
Cookson: âChinaâs making a name for itself on the international stageâ
âWhen we started working with him as a young talented rider back in 2008 we made a long-term plan and this has seen him develop into the highest level of the sport and we see him now playing an important factor in the sprint formations,â Team Giant-Shimano coach Rudi Kemma when Ji was confirmed as a one of the nine riders selected for the Tour de France.
âHaving Cheng in the team as the first Chinese rider ever to ride the Tour de France will be huge for him and his country and we look forward to seeing the impact this has on the globalization of the sport.â
An opinion shared by UCI President Brian Cookson: âI am happy to witness riders from all five continents racing well in the Grands Tours. Colombia shined with Nairo Quintana in the Giro this year and we have seen an African team participating for the first time ever in the UCI WorldTour this season with MTN Qhubeka. Cycling is developing fast in China, and I am glad to see that the country is making a name for itself on the international stage.â
Other riders in the Giant-Shimano squad, which will start in its fourth Tour de France, includes road captain Roy Curvers, Dries Devenyns and Koen De Kort. Albert Timmer and Tom Veelers will act as key lead-out riders for Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, while Tom Dumoulin returns for his second Tour and hopes to perform consistently well during the three-week race.
Photo: Cheng Ji in 2012 Vuelta a Espana