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Mitchelton-BikeExchange: The China connection

The Continental feeder team for Mitchelton-Scott develops young Chinese talent and cultivates sponsorship opportunities for the future.

WANNING, China (VN) — The Mitchelton-BikeExchange team is helping Chinese riders reach the top, in races like this week’s Tour of Hainan. It is also making connections for possible sponsorship deals to support the program’s WorldTour roster, which includes riders like Vuelta a España winner Simon Yates.

The Chinese Continental feeder team to the Australian WorldTour team Mitchelton-Scott includes seven Chinese cyclists. The team takes them around the world, to races like the under-23 Paris-Roubaix and the Dubai Tour, as well as this week’s HC-ranked race on the resort island in southeast China

“The sponsor search is one part, but also working with the federation to develop the Chinese road cyclists,” said sports director James Victor.

“Probably the average age of the Chinese riders is 22 to 23, so it’s a good age group to start with.”

The Tour of Hainan, in its 13th edition, travels around China’s island in the southeast to promote local tourism. The Mitchelton-BikeExchange seven-man roster here includes four Chinese riders: Nazaerbieke Bieken, Zhi Hui Jiang, Liu Jiankun, and charismatic national champion Niu Yikui.

“Some of those guys have good experience already. So we brought three of those guys to Europe for some competition and experience in Europe,” added Victor.

“It’s working well so far. We have a vision, we can take it to another level in the next year and certainly help the Chinese federation, but we are also looking for the commercial aspect of it too to secure sponsors to keep all three teams going.”

The team, like GCP which plans to debut as a Chinese WorldTour team in 2020, is reaching out to several Chinese investors to support its continental structure, women’s team, and men’s WorldTour team.

The team travels over to Europe for under-23 races and bases itself at Lake Varese in Italy. In Asia, it takes part in some of the biggest events.

“We did Qinghai Lake, and won a stage there, in the Tour of China 1 and 2, we won the Chinese and Asian jersey as well as third on GC, so it’s been a successful year for the Asian calendar,” explained Victor.

“In the Tour of Hainan, HC with four Italian Pro Conti teams, it’s a strong competition. It’s in the Chinese riders’ backyard, but they certainly understand how high the level of competition is here with four Italian professional continental teams.”

The hope is that the experience will allow the riders to make the jump to the Mitchelton-Scott WorldTour team or another WorldTour outfit. Its non-Chinese riders have already been able to benefit from the experience, riders including Lucas Hamilton, Robert Stannard, and Callum Scotson.

“We had one rider stagiaire with Mitchelton-Scott this year, Jillongsong went to Colorado with the team. We are going to see what will unfold in the next 12 months to two years with the Chinese riders coming through and try to feed one or two to the WorldTour level,” continued Victor.

“It’s early days for that, but that’s what the Conti team is about, to help them develop at a high level of competition before they are ready to take on the WorldTour and a career.”

Nazaerbieke Bieken can climb well, coming from the Chinese mountain bike program. The team believes he has some big opportunities ahead if he can gain more road experience and learn about the international peloton’s group dynamics.

Currently, China only counts one rider in the WorldTour, Meiyin Wang with Team Bahrain-Merida, so they must make a big step ahead.

“It’s been great to work with them. I think there’s a future for them,” said 20-year-old Australian cyclist, Harry Sweeny.

“Can they make the WorldTour? With a bit more development and the help of Mitchelton-Scott, I think it’s possible. We need to work on a few things, the biggest barrier is the language. It’s hard to communicate, and we have our staff, so that’s really great to help with that. So I can’t see why not.”

The four Chinese in the Mitchelton-Scott team in Hainan speak little English, but they try and have help from the mechanic. In the race, they rely on the group’s international language of curse words and hand signals.

“I did Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Tours in the Under 23s. Paris-Roubaix was hard and difficult for me, but I really liked it,” said Zhi Hui Jiang.

“This team gives me a dream and this year the team brought me to Europe for one month. It was good. I like Europe, my dream is in Europe.”