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Dream comes true for Ji at the Tour

Updated: 2014-07-05 06:41
By Agence France-Presse in Leeds, UK ( China Daily)

Groundbreaking Chinese cyclist wants to push sport to new level

Ji Cheng said it will be a "dream" come true on Saturday when he becomes the first Chinese rider to compete at the Tour de France.

It will also complete a personal ambition for the 26-year-old from Harbin in the northeast of China as he will achieve the clean sweep of taking part in all three Grand Tours, following his participations at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana and last year's Giro d'Italia.

"For me, personally, finally I did the three Grand Tours, I can say I'm the first Chinese. I'm really happy for that and also for my dream since I started cycling, so finally I got there. I'm really, really happy," he said.

It has been a long road for Ji, who started out as an athlete before switching to track cycling in his teens and then moving onto the road.

He came to Europe eight years ago with Dutch team Purapharm before moving a year later to his current outfit, Giant-Shimano.

But he has been struggling to make his mark since.

"Shimano China wanted to support some Chinese racers. They wanted someone to go to a European professional team to race, to finally have a Chinese rider start the Tour de France," Ji said.

"I'm lucky, they called me and said: 'there's a chance; you're young and good for road biking'.

"I'm really, really happy. The first year I was really sad, it was completely different. When you come to Europe, it's the small, funny things that make the difference. When you come home from a race sometimes everything is closed because there is some special holiday. We were lasking, 'where can we go?' Even the restaurants were closed."

Things have not necessarily gotten any easier as Ji is now married but rarely sees his wife.

"It's a hard life, I have a family but they stay in China, my wife also," he said.

"Sometimes, like last year, I went back for 1 1/2 months to stay in China, where we also had some races.

"It's different because there are six hours (difference) between Europe and China and you're a rider so sometimes you wake up, eat breakfast and go training.

"When I get back, my wife is usually already asleep because she's got a job ... we have to find a solution to have more contact.

"We had a plan this year, but then I found out I was probably going to start in the Tour de France. Her holidays are July, so if she came to Europe I still wouldn't be able to do anything with her because I would be in the race.

"It's hard actually. Personally, I'd really like my wife to come to Europe."

But all the sacrifices will seem worth it for Ji once he sits on the start line in Leeds on Saturday.

He will be a pioneer and he is hoping his example will inspire others to take up cycling as a profession and try to emulate his feats in making it to the biggest races.

"For my career, when I start in the Tour de France, that will already be a victory. I can say, I'm the first one to start but I hope others will follow my example," he said.

"If you want to be there and want to change things, you can do it, it's not a matter of where you're from."

But he admitted it would not be easy in a country where there are few races, particularly at the grassroots level.

"If you want to advance (cycling in China), you will have to change the whole system," Ji said.

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