Last week's Tour of Beijing helped Chinese riders bridge the gap to the top ranks in Europe. An eight-man national team raced alongside 18 WorldTour teams, an important step for future professionals and a potential Chinese ProTeam.
"It's the first time for them to compete in a high-level race," team manager, Niu Hongtao told Cycling Weekly. "There's a good chance for them to learn. They are very excited for this chance, even if they don't get a great result."
This year's Tour of Beijing was the inaugural edition and went straight in to the calendar as a WorldTour race. In addition to the required 18 ProTeams, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) President, Pat McQuaid insisted that China field a team.
"I had to convince the Chinese cycling federation to put this team into this race," McQuaid told Cycling Weekly. "Their culture is of saving faces, they didn't want to field a team that could be dropped every day, but I thought it was important for the race and for Chinese cycling."
Chinese cyclists have raced with the top European teams before. Italian team, Lampre included Kin San Wu and Xu Gang in 2006, but both rode as stagiaires in Asia only. Li Fuyu raced with RadioShack in Europe last year until he tested positive for clenbuterol.
Over the last year, the UCI hosted several Chinese riders at its World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland. As the riders improve, it will help them find teams in Europe as it did with Daniel Teklehaymanot. He will become the first black-African to race for a top-level team next year with GreenEdge.
"It's ideal for us," added Hongtao.
"The big problem for most of the riders is learning another language. If they improve, then maybe they can join a high-level team."
McQuaid is pushing for a national team to come and stay in Switzerland this winter. The World Cycling Centre would prepare them for next season, the Tour of Beijing and beyond.
"It will them get to the level to join Pro Continental teams or pro [WorldTour] teams," McQuaid explained. "10 to 12 cyclists spread in different teams in five to seven year's time would help develop this race and encourage companies to sponsor a [WorldTour] Chinese team."
The Chinese federation and the UCI had a long meeting this week to discuss the tasks needed to encourage growth. Part of the difficulty is that China itself is bigger than Europe, spread into 31 provinces with around 30 to 100 million people each, and encounters difficultly when forming national teams.
This does not stop Ruisong Zhang, or his team-mates Kun Jiang and Yiming Zhao at the Tour of Beijing. They spent three months in Switzerland this year and are fighting their way back. The training helped Zhang, who featured in the escape in stage two.
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