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By Andrew Hood
It’s looking more likely that a Japanese rider will be at the Tour de France for the first time in more than a decade.
Bbox Bouygues Telecom has named Yukiya Arashiro as one of the riders assured to start the 2009 Tour on July 4 in Monaco. The others include Thomas Voeckler, Pierrick Fédrigo, Pierre Rolland and William Bonnet.
Bouygues team boss Jean-René Bernaudeau had high praise for Arashiro, a former Japanese national time trial and road champion who’s racing in Europe for the first time this season.
“He’s a rider with a mix of panache, hard-work ethic and a respect for orders,” Bernaudeau said. “Honestly, I didn’t think he’d be so talented. We will go to the Tour with a lot of freshness, passion and enthusiasm.”
If the 24-year-old Arashiro does start, he will be hoping to become the first Japanese to finish the grueling, three-week Tour. Arashiro recently completed both the Dauphiné Libéré and the Volta a Catalunya.
Only one Japanese rider – Daisuke Imanaka – has started the Tour with a top pro team. Riding for the Polti team, he lined up for the 1996 Tour, but didn’t make the time cut in stage 14.
The only other Japanese rider to participate in the Tour was Japanese pioneer Kisso Kawamuro, who raced in the 1926 and 1927 editions as a touriste-routier, an individual racing without a team. He didn’t finish either race.
Another Japanese rider also expected to get a tip for the Tour is Fumiyuki Beppu with Skil-Shimano.
The 26-year-old Beppu rode three seasons with Discovery Channel from 2005-07 and joined Skil-Shimano in 2008. The Dutch team received a wild-card invitation to start this year’s Tour and Beppu is expected to be named among the team’s nine riders.