Feng dominates 2015 National Championships

Two days after announcing his contract with WorldTour team Lampre-Merida was being renewed for 2016, Taiwan s Feng Chun Kai has capped off a successful first year in the highest echelon of pro cycling by defending his national championship titles.

IMAGES: Chinese Taipei Cycling Association

Taitung County, Taiwan. Less than 24 hours before successfully defending his ITT title in today s National Road Cycling Championships, Feng Chun Kai (???) was vomiting from heatstroke and the exertion of a solo breakaway that resulted in his sixth win in the Elite Men s road race. In hot conditions and against a stiff headwind, Feng fought the last 60km lap of the 180km race largely on his own, finishing in 4:29 26 ahead of compatriots Lu Shao Hsuan (???) and Chien Liang Chen (???). As if that were a distant memory, he finished today s 36km ITT in 49 25 more than two minutes clear of his nearest rival. Feng now has a remarkable six national road race titles (2009-2011 and 2013-2015) and two national ITT titles (2013, 2015) to his credit.

27 year old Feng, who earlier this week announced his contract renewal with WorldTour team Lampre-Merida for another year, was always the favourite to win the race, but the result also confirmed the progress of Lu (21) and Chien (22), who both race for UCI Continental teams Attaque Team Gusto and Action Cycling Team, respectively. Though Feng has been referred to as the best Taiwanese rider of his generation by former coaches and media alike, the fact that younger riders are nipping at his heels is presumably reassuring for the Chinese Taipei Cycling Association, given Taiwan hasn t had quite the same success producing international-quality riders as it has international-quality bicycles.

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Paris Roubaix, 2015. Feng has captured the attention of international media in a way that few other Asian cyclists have before him. Image: Merida Bikes

If the view that Taiwan has been punching or cycling in this case below its weight seems a little harsh, just look at Australia which has a population roughly equal to that of Taiwan. The number of Australian pro cyclists racing at World Tour level in the last decade has consistently been more than 20, and often exceeded 30, but it took Cadel Evans win at the 2011 Tour de France to flip the switch on public interest in cycling. By contrast, cycling culture reaches further and deeper into the lives of Taiwanese, while the central mountain range offers the type of hill training that Aussies cannot readily access in their own vast country. Yet there has been a disconnect between the number of people riding bikes and the appetite for pro cycling as a vocation. Feng, like Evans in Australia, may very well be the missing link, the catalyst for that to change.

Aside from a wild-card invitation to the Road Cycling event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Feng s trajectory is borne of hard graft and thousands of lonely miles plying the roads of Asia. An irresistible sweet tooth as a child meant he was the archetypal fat kid at his Junior High School in Miaoli, so he initially took up cycling at the age of thirteen to lose weight. The effect would be transformative; not only on his physique, but also on his destiny. In only his second year of cycling, he won the National High School competition. His natural talent developed further throughout senior school and his regional performances, including a track cycling gold medal at the 2007 Asian Cycling Championships, saw him invited to attend the elite National Taiwan Sports University. The Olympic wildcard came only one month after he graduated from high school.

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Unquestionably, good fortune has also played its part. In September 2012, after months of speculation, Taiwan s second-largest bicycle manufacturer Merida announced that it would partner with long-time WorldTour team Lampre to create the Lampre-Merida pro cycling team. Fifteen years earlier, Merida had watched from the sidelines as industry rival Giant Bicycles broke into the European-dominated sport by providing bikes to Spanish pro cycling team ONCE. Giant s investment and influence grew in subsequent years, culminating in co-sponsoring the Giant-Shimano team in 2014 and creating the pathway for the first ever Chinese rider, Ji Cheng, to compete in the Tour de France the same year. Merida clearly did not want to lose the opportunity to achieve something similar; Feng had prepared himself to the right level, but Merida came along at the right time.

Though Feng is yet to ride the Tour de France, it is a foregone conclusion. His first year with Lampre-Merida has been formative and unspectacular, with a number of DNF s (Did Not Finish) added to his sporting resume. However, continuity of sponsorship funding and return on sponsorship investment are life-giving elements in a sport plagued by doping scandals in recent years. Merida s recently announced 7.8% YoY revenue growth in the first three quarters of 2015 was a record for that period, and the Yuanlin-based company largely attributed that to its pro cycling investment. Asian markets are driving a lot of that growth, and it is hard to look past Feng s place on the team as a contributing factor. With a fresh national champions jersey on his shoulders, it is a perfect time for the first Taiwanese cyclist to ride a Merida bike into the world s biggest bike race.

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2015 Taiwan National Road Cycling Championships Elite Men s podium (left to right): 2nd place, Lu Shao Hsuan (???); 1st place, Feng Chun Kai (???); 3rd place, Chien Liang Chen (???).

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