With two team members on the podium, the women from Orica-AIS dominated the first European one-day event of the year, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, in Belgium. Tiffany Cromwellâ€™s victory, together with Emma Johanssonâ€™s third place and a top-ten finish from Loes Gunnewijk showed that the Australian team is among the best.
Further down the list of results, their new teammate, Koreaâ€™s Sungeun Gu, slots in at 40th out of the 64 finishers in Belgium. Nothing remarkable on the surface. But as Koreaâ€™s first professional female cyclist, the fact that 28-year-old Sungeun is where she is today is victory in itself. It was her first experience racing with her professional team.
â€śIâ€™m still alive,â€ť she posted on Twitter after the race. â€śIt was hard. Too many cobbles but a good experience.â€ť
Junior World titles on the track
A fan of all sports, Sungeun Gu began cycling at the age of 14. She started her competitive career on the track and quickly made her mark as a Junior, winning five gold medals at the 2002 Asian Junior Championships and two silvers the same year at the UCI Juniors World Championships.
Two years later, she found herself at the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland, for a three-month intensive camp with the centreâ€™s endurance group.
â€śIt was a wonderful experience,â€ť she says. â€śI still remember everything about my time in Switzerland. I enjoyed it and realised I could live in Europe. While I was at the WCC I started to dream of being a professional cyclist.â€ť
From the World Cycling Centre, she went directly to the fourth round of the 2004 UCI Track Cycling World Cup Classics in Sydney, where she claimed silver in the scratch race. Although this was arguably her best result to date, she was well aware that she was also a capable road cyclist.
Transition to road cycling
In the ensuing years, she concentrated on the road, clocking up commendable results in Asia but remaining relatively unknown on the international scene. Probably the most international media coverage she received before her signing with Orica-AIS was her crash at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games after which she bravely climbed out of a ditch and continued to finish in 58th place.
Sungeun first met the Orica-AIS riders at the UCI Road World Cup in China last year. With the help of WCC Director FrĂ©dĂ©ric MagnĂ© and the Korean Cycling Federation, she was able to sign her contract in November, and started her life as a professional with a training camp in Canberra.
â€śEveryone welcomed me and they are teaching me the English language and their different culture. Training in Canberra was really good because in Korea it was minus 10. The weather was good and I worked on my weaknesses. They train hard and I learned a lot from them.
Contract puts an end to eight-year wait
â€śI am ready to ride! I was waiting more than eight years to become a professional rider. Even the pain I experience in training and racing contributes to my happiness! I also wear the Orica-AIS team jersey during training. It is the best thing for me.
â€śI want to make a success of my role with Orica-AIS. I also want to participate in the 2013 UCI Road World Championships. In the past 20 years, no Korean rider has even participated in the Road World Championships.
There are about 300 women cyclists in Korea and it is a big issue that I can be a member of a professional team. I want to bring them some good news soon...â€ť
The Korea Cycling Federation will follow Sungeun Guâ€™s progress closely, hoping that her story will inspire others in her country: â€śShe is a big issue in Korea and many cycling lovers and registered riders are excited about her signing,â€ť says the Federationâ€™s Manager of International Affairs, Hee Tae Yoon. â€śThanks to her, the Korea Cycling Federation would like to get its first Olympic medal in the history of Korean cycling.â€ť
No small task for the countryâ€™s first professional female!
Photo: Sungeun Gu (left) withÂ the Orica-AISÂ team
UCI Communication Services