Courtesy of ex-Discovery Channel rider, Li Fuyu, there’s a chance Hengxiang Cycling may already be on the radar of some Euro-centric cycling fans. However, there’s more substance to the roster than an ex-ProTeam rider, most recently thanks to the new addition of Ma Guangtong.
18 year old Ma, winner of China’s 12th National Games Road Race in Liaoning Province last week, was today announced by Li – who also doubles as the squad’s coach – as the latest rider to be added to the Shandong Province-based squad, which also includes the 2013 Elite Men’s Road Race National Champion, Shuang Shan.
Ma overcame the collective might of Hong Kong – traditionally the team to beat in these quadrennial Games, which is China’s national equivalent of the Olympics – and other heavyweights, such as four-times National Road Race Champion Xu Gang (professionally contracted to Champion System Pro Cycling team, but riding for his Shanghai team at the Games) in the hilly 189.1km event. Notably, not a single Hong Kong cyclist made the podium, much to the delight of Xinhua State News Agency’s various mouthpieces.
Ma will be joining a powerful team. Due in large part to Wang Meiyin’s stellar performance at this year’s Tour de Langkawi, in which he picked up the overall KOM jersey and placed 5th on GC, Hengxiang currently sits highest of the nine domestic UCI Continental squads on this year’s UCI AsiaTour team rankings. With two national champions and Li’s connections, the future looks bright so long as the team can get race starts.
Li, the first Chinese rider to sign a ProTeam contract – and the first Chinese rider to be released from a ProTeam, following a positive doping test at the 2010 Dwaars Door Vlaanderen – has been coaching the Hengxiang team since 2009. On conclusion of his 2-year suspension, Li returned to the sport in 2012 and won the white jersey of best Chinese rider at that year’s Tour of China. Now describing himself as “a coach-cyclist, not a cyclist-coach”, Li’s role as a key mentor in the team has intensified to the extent he is planning to retire from cycling competition at the conclusion of the 2013 season. In doing so, he hopes to lead his team of domestic cycling champions to more races in Europe and expand his repertoire as a coach.
The men’s road race closed the curtain on the 12th National Games, and deputy sporting minister Xiao Tian specifically identified cycling as one of “a number of events that require a strong physique…and (that the) National Games have a role to play in helping (to) make progress.”
Special thanks to Pei Yun Ching for contributing to this article.