In May this year, Korea s Cycling Federation advertised a unique opportunity on its website; the chance for one male Korean road cyclist to be a stagiaire on Australian ProTeam ORICA-GreenEDGE. With the rider due to be announced on or around July 30, Cycling iQ spoke with the team s GM, Shayne Bannan, to find out more.
Globalisation is an increasingly used and abused word in the world of cycling but, as one of only two UCI-registered teams along with Argos-Shimano to boast riders from all five UCI continents on its roster, ORICA-GreenEDGE (OGE) has already made meaningful progress in its global scope since launching in December 2011. Until now, three riders from Japan Beppu, Takashi Miyazawa (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Nariyuki Masuda (Cannondale Pro Cycling)- represent the largest contingent of East Asian riders from one nation in the premium tier of professional road cycling; though China recently enhanced its presence, with Yan Dong Xing joining Cheng Ji at Argos-Shimano in March this year.
We have a connection via (Sungeun) Gu, who is in our (ORICA-AIS) women s team explained Bannan before the start of the Tour de France s 15th stage on Sunday. We first started a relationship with the Korean Cycling Federation through our women s team and, in discussion with the Federation earlier in the year, we decided also to make an opportunity available for one of their male riders. Basically, we will be receiving the name of one Korean male rider probably next week, because we have to register that rider as a stagiaire before August 1. The rider will be coming over, we ll be having a look at him, doing various physiological testing and then he ll be riding in the Tour of Alberta in Canada (AmericaTour UCI2.1, held from 03-08 September) on the ORICA-GreenEDGE team as stagiaire. It will be a great opportunity to have a look at him, a great opportunity for the rider to gain some experience for the future and, you know, highlights ORICA-GreenEDGE s responsibility for the globalisation of the sport.
Korea is certainly positioning itself as the centre of elite cycling in Asia. Through its elite sports development division KSPO, the Korean government has made substantial investment into the Tour de Korea of which it is a co-organiser with KCF development programs for cyclists from emerging countries (recently paying for promising track cyclists from India to live and train in Korea) in the region, and a UCI Continental team of the same name. The offices of the Asian Cycling Confederation also reside in Seoul and, earlier last month, the UCI s World Cycling Centre (WCC), in partnership with the Federation, commenced the first training camp for aspiring coaches and cyclist from the broader Asian region.
It s part of a long-standing relationship that we ve had with the KCF. said WCC Education and Training Manager, Keith Flory. For four years now, we ve had an ongoing development relationship with the Federation to the extent we ve had riders on a regular basis training here (Aigle, Switzerland) at the centre. We ve also had Federation staff members here for an extended period of time. It has essentially been a process of evolution in terms of one of the strategies to create a World Cycling Centre satellite for Asia, based in South Korea. The plan this year is to have two separate training camps and then, after that, we will evaluate both camps individually and how that model can move forward long-term; and how that links in to a physical continuous presence in terms of a replica of the site we ve done here; but in South Korea and focused on Asia. It would be more along the model we currently have with the African Cycling Centre; to have physical housing, but no velodrome for example. Albeit, that is a few years down the line.
The World Cycling Centre also provided a valuable connection for OGE when it came to talent identification and procurement from Asia. Though Bannan has followed the progress of a lot of the Asian countries over the past five years, WCC Director Fr d Magn has been instrumental in putting specific rider s names on the team s radar.
A number of Korean riders have been at the (WCC). Fred speaks very highly about the Koreans and their physiology; he s always updating us as to the potential. If you look at the Koreans and their performances of late, it s been quite outstanding. There s some obvious talent there that we would like to help nurture. Providing these opportunities really gives more stimulus for the young Koreans to think OK a pathway is possible and it is possible that one day we ll have a Korean rider in a WorldTour team and eventually, hopefully, winning a stage in the Tour de France. It s a long-term project, and we understand that, but to be a part of this project is very exciting for us.
Asia in not only beginning to emerge as a serious talent pool; relative to debt-stricken Europe, the Far East offers a massive pipeline of potential sponsorship dollars and a booming middle-class eager to sink disposable income into the consumer wares of team sponsors. Bannan admitted that, while this was an attractive potential long-term benefit, it was not the main driver of the team s motivation to accelerate its Asia procurement program, relative to its peers.
From a commercial point of view, when we are looking at (riders from) Korea and China, it certainly brings another market. There s certainly interest from our partners in those new markets and that s potential for the future. Our initial motivation is to be part of developing part of the Asia region; that hopefully creates a partnership and a pathway that will enable Korean cyclists and Asian cyclists to be well represented in the WorldTour.
A significant uptick in the quality and quantity of events on the AsiaTour calendar since the implementation of the Continental Circuits has also been a key factor in allowing teams like OGE and Argos-Shimano to make investments in a region also viewed by financial analysts as the world s new growth centre. From his perspective, the current Asian racing calendar bears almost no resemblance to the scene ten years ago when, in Bannan s words you had the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia but not too many other, what you would call world-class, events. Asia s output of cycling talent has also gathered speed according to Bannan, who himself oversaw Australia s emergence as a hotbed of elite cycling in his former role as Cycling Australia National Performance Director.
You re now seeing a lot more Asian riders winning these (AsiaTour) races and becoming prominent within Continental teams; many Continental teams are also starting, so it s just a natural progression. Now, the next part of that progression is having more Asians on the WorldTour. I would say there would be a number of WorldTour teams that are watching the Asian area quite closely and I would also say, given the natural progession, if you look at the next 5-6 years, we will see a significant increase in Asian riders on the WorldTour.
Seoul Cycling Team s Ho Sung Cho winning the 7th stage in this year s Tour de Korea.
Unfortunately for the Korean rider soon to be recruited by OGE, the possibility to race in his home event does not exist. Currently a 2.2-sanctioned stage race, the Tour de Korea, under UCI regulations, is ineligible to invite ProTeams, but the door to invite ORICA-GreenEDGE would open should Korea s only AsiaTour event be upgraded to 2.1 status a grading which, by all factors evident, is easily attainable if the will to achieve it exists. Fumiyuki Beppu s teammates had first-hand experience of his superstar status at the Japan Cup race last year, and there is no reason why a Korean riding for OGE wouldn t receive the same level of adulation should Tour de Korea, or another event, meet the required status.
Certainly a point in our team s discussions is to be more prominent in Asia, via events stated Bannan, also providing an indirect answer as to whether establishing a Continental feeder team was planned. At the moment we do Japan Cup, of course the Tour of Beijing, we ve done Singapore (OCBC Pro Criterium) this year, so it s certainly one of our plans to be more prominent in Asia. There may be a possibility in the future of involving ourselves with a feeder team as well. There s nothing formal at this stage. We re working closely with the Korean Cycling Federation so, you know, I think some of these projects will evolve over the next couple of years.
With KCF still going through the selection process to name the rider who will join the team in Italy, Bannan was not able to fuel any speculation by acknowledging whether the new recruit was already part of an established UCI Continental team. Whoever it is, the team s expectations have already been benchmarked by Gu s seamless integration into the ORICA-AIS squad.
We first met Gu in October last year when we signed her recalled Bannan. Fred (Magn ) spoke a lot about her and we always planned to involve ourselves more with Korea, and Asia, and we saw it as a real opportunity to give Gu a fantastic experience and also build our relationship with the Koreans. She attended the training camp in Australia and straight away the coaches and other riders were really impressed with her determination and it s certainly rubbed off in the team. She s a real team player and her physical progression has been great. Unfortunately she had a fall in the first stage of the women s Tour of Italy, so that s put her out of competition for 4-5 weeks; but she ll come back strong for the second half of the season. We ve been really impressed with her progression both on and off the bike. She s an extremely talented young woman and a really nice person.
More information on the World Cycling Centre satellite in Korea and on OGE s new stagiaire will be released on Cycling iQ soon.