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.