Reflections on a new horizon for the Chinese core of Mitchelton-BikeExchange

Mon 12 Mar 2018

For the Chinese riders of UCI Continental team Mitchelton-BikeExchange the 2018 Dubai Tour was the first time they had raced outside of China, let alone stepping up against WorldTour opposition with new teammates, language barriers and a fierce desire to prove themselves on the world stage.

Registered in China, with seven of the team’s thirteen riders Chinese and an emphasis on the continued development of cycling in Asia from racing to infrastructure and beyond, the importance of participating in a race like the Dubai Tour was a big step for a team in its early stages of existence.

A step up that was justified with repeated appearances and exposure in the breakaway and a top 25 GC result from Bieken Nazaerbieke as the young team ticked off objectives and gained themselves some well earned respect in the peloton.

After a couple of weeks digesting the experience, we spoke to three of the Chinese riders who competed in Dubai to gauge their reactions and it was clear that they were not intimidated by the WorldTour competition and considered the event a valuable learning experience.

Xue Fuwen:

“I spent the 2017 season with the team, but I didn't have much chance to do international races with the foreign riders in the team. The Tour of Fuzhou was a great step forward for me last season because we had a chance to defend the leader's jersey on the final stage and we did it. It was great honour for me and it gave me more feeling of being part of the team.”

“Now I'm the only U23 Chinese rider in the team and that's a good advantage for me because I'm eager to do the U23 races in Europe. I heard people say if you want to become a WorldTour rider you have to race in Europe as early as possible and that's what I'm trying to do in the coming seasons.”

“To be part of the breakaway on stage two gave me good confidence and I hope I can find my position in such high-level races soon. There will be some Chinese races I have to do for my provincial team this year, but I hope I can spend most of my time with Mitchelton-BikeExchange.”

Sun Xiaolong:

“I had a bad crash on stage one and broke my frame. I was pretty upset then but actually I started to feel that my form is good. I lost 4kg in the Hainan training camp and I thought I got myself ready for this high-level race. To be part of the breakaway was a big moment in my road cycling career and many Chinese fans cheered me up on social media, I really appreciate it.”

“This year I don't have to do mountain bike races or race for provincial team’s, so I can be fully committed to training and do road races with this team. I think right now language is the biggest challenge for us and I hope I can spend more time learning English this year.”

Bieken Nazaerbieke:

“The Dubai Tour was my first race with the team and I really like the atmosphere in the team. I finished in 25th on GC with a 2:35 time gap from the leader and I'm not satisfied with it. In every flat stage I could follow the group no problem, and I wish I had done better on the stage four uphill finish.”

“I was in a pretty good position with five kilometres to go, but then I nearly crashed at a corner and the leading group just went away. If I had still been in that group I would have finished closer to Sam Jenner and I could be much higher on GC than where I finished.”

“Of course, it's a matter of experience to put myself in the right position in the final part of the race and I didn't do it well. I've learned from it and I hope I can get more chances to prove myself on the climbs over the course of the season.”

Next up for Mitchelton-BikeExchange is the Tour of Langkawi from the 18th – 25th of March, before the team head to Europe for the U23 spring classics.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.