body{background-attachment: fixed ! important; }

Friday, June 17, 2011

Will Asian Riders Ever Lead The Pros?

Tom Southam, the professional bicycle racer, writes an interesting article for the June issue of Pro Cycling Magazine, in which he takes a look at the current and future state of Asian cycling. Southam specifically takes into account his experiences racing in the 2010 edition of the Tour of Taiwan, a race which is rated 2.2 on the UCI rating scale.

There's no doubt that Europe is (and, let's face it, always will be) the centre of the cycling world. Every other racing culture is simply a diluted version of what happens here [Europe]. There is no other racing culture in the world that exists without the influence of Europe.

Racing in Asia holds a myriad of challenges that mostly stem from what you might call 'cultural differences'. It's different for many reasons, some that are worth celebrating and some that are problematic and exhausting. But whichever way you choose to look at these challenges, they simply have to be accepted as part of the globalizing of the sport.

In the article on page 46, Southam continues to discuss the importance of the Europeans and Americans in the Asian racing scene, and how important they are to the growing of the sport.

He makes many good points as there are relatively few Asian racers at the elite level; Radio Shack's Fumiyuki Beppu is one rider who comes to mind, but he is an exception. Though, this may not always be the case. Road cycling has become increasingly popular as it is an elitist sport that may require a high investment in gear and training, thus as many Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and increasingly China have cultivated a standard of living that can better support the sport. In Taiwan where many of the top bicycles are finished, there are several tiers of enthusiast with a gradient of investment in the sport. There are numerous races held every year for riders of varying degrees of age and fitness. I don't believe it will be too long before more Asian riders start entering the pro ranks.

Another consideration of why cycling will continue to be focused on Europe is that the racing calendar puts the high season of racing, when riders come into form, between April and September. In Taiwan for instance, the best riding weather comes during the off season between December and March. Not exactly the best time to attract the big talent or highlight scenic mountain routes that may be icy despite mild temperatures below. The rest of the year is too unpredictable with rains and typhoons.
Regardless, I can't wait to root for the first Taiwanese to race a grand tour. It is only a matter of time. Asia has some passionate and talented cyclists and with enough support they will make their way through to the big show.

As far as culture goes... hmmmm.


  1. Yes, interesting how certain national groups dominate certain sports world competitions. Factors of cost to get geared up and racing costs, are part of it.

    But sponsorship is another one. Does Giant sponsor big money purses for Asian competitive races? I don't follow racing bike world at all. Or is it better for them to sponsor European dominant/location races?

    Ok: here it goes. The U.S. has a huge Afro-American population, same for Asian-American population yet in U.S. national cycling ranks and the Tour de France do we ever see racers of colour??

    There has been discussion that bubbles up occasionally on some of the Internet forums, why there aren't a noticeable critical mass of blacks, Asians in big numbers on the competitive side. Then also as commuters-fitness riders. (though latter is growing, at least noticeable to me in Vancouver & Toronto.Acculturation and assimilation is part of it.)

    Part of cycling, especially competitive group training together, is social. Yes, I absolutely agree it is inherently a loner sport but to become competitive, you have to train regularily with some hard-ass riders. It's a matter of hanging out with the same folks over and over and be "in" on the gang.

    and also parent(s) who think that competitive cycling is a worthwhile thing vs.....some path for a safe white collar career.

    Given China's population would think there would be talent there. However if world competitive athletes from there are supported by the state, then the govn't has to have its own program to nurture athletes which I understand is partially how athletes there are groomed there to world class levels.

    Well, one day I should blog about why it's perceived there are less blacks, Asians in NOrth America cycling. I just hope I'm wrong.

  2. @Jean,

    Great observations.

    I think there may be cultural differences, some driven by socioeconomic factors, others by constructions of race, that may be at play as well.

    I keep hearing of European attempts to train Ethiopian distance runners to become professional cyclists. Although the scheme smacks of neocolonialism, I imagine this is where we will see non-white cyclists.

    Another problem in North America is the cultural inferiority complex of homophobia. For some reason cycling is considered "gay" in many parts of North America. It has something to do with the tight pants (despite the fact that NFL players wear equally tight pants). In speaking with a gay African American, I was told how much pressure he felt for "letting the team down." He grew up being taught to be strong for the community... to be macho. It may be that cycling, with its expensive gear and "gay" stigma, may be risky on several fronts for minority cyclists in N. America.

    That is not to say there are no black cyclists in N. America. I think you might find more in communities that have less of a history with racial tensions.

    As far as fewer Asian cyclists...

    In looking at the uproar over Amy Chua's treatise on the Tiger Mother, cycling and other sports may be regarded by some parents as a waste of time. I once had a Korean doctor tell me to quit "hard" sports entirely as it would be bad for my body. He had his kids doing tennis and violin.

    Though in Taiwan, cycling is becoming something of a status symbol to demonstrate the pinnacle of affluence. With its focus on gear and kit (kit is highly recommended in the hot, humid weather in Taiwan) it bleeds elitism.

    Definitely something to look into.