Sure, Friday’s stage up Fujisan was steep, but today’s 146.4 kilometer course was thirteen times longer with three times more elevation gain. Tour of Japan’s fifth stage took place in ”a bicycle theme park sequestered in 1.68 million square meters of natural surroundings”, otherwise known as Izu’s Japan Cycle Sports Center.
While the peloton was being blown apart over the extremely technical and hilly circuit, Cycling iQ was out riding. Only after returning home was it revealed that Asia’s (if we put aside Kazakhstan’s Alexander Vinokourov for a second), most famous cyclist, Wong Kam Po, had added yet another victory to his extensive palmarès. [Note: after missing the entire stage and spending the rest of the day out, I'm not going to try to bluff my way through a race report]
The current Asian Road Cycling Champion from Hong Kong is a phenomenon. Notable figures inside the world of professional cycling have openly wondered why Wong never made it to the Tour de France, or indeed settled in Europe permanently. People close to Wong have told Cycling iQ that the Hong Kong government always beat any offer from European professional cycling teams; such was Wong’s importance to the country’s Olympic and national cycling program. In a 2002 New York Times interview, then-28 year old Wong told cycling writer Samuel Abt that he was “not ready” to turn pro.
“My strength is climbing, and that’s what European teams are interested in, my climbing ability. But I want to make sure a pro team will let me play to my strength as far as training goes and the kind of races they allow me to do.
I don’t want to join just any European team but one that understands who I am as a rider, specifically a climber. If I joined a pro team now, it might insist I produce results immediately. I feel I still have weaknesses, and in Hong Kong I’m allowed to work on them.
I have a lot of support now for my training. How do I know a pro team will give me the same level of support? How do I know there won’t be too much pressure to produce immediately? Of course I want to be on a pro team, but these questions are more important than my desire to turn pro.”
We can look back and see that it never happened. Whatever the reason, Europe’s loss is Asia’s gain. However, for long-time fans of Wong Kam Po (of which I am one), every victory is tinged with a sadness that this star of cycling did not light up the Pyrenees or Alps in the ‘World’s Greatest Bike Race’.
WHILE SOMEONE WAS OUT RIDING…
Individual General Classification (Green jersey): Fortunato Baliani (Team Nippo)
Points Classification (Blue jersey): Mariusz Wiesiak (Matrix Powertag)
King of the Mountains Classification (Red jersey): Julián Arredondo Moreno (Team Nippo)
Teams General Classification: Team Nippo
STAGE 5 RESULTS
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FIVE