One year ago, a young rider from China, Lyu Xianjing, made minor waves in the world of cycling when he finished fifth overall in the Tour of Hainan, followed swiftly by third in the Tour of Fuzhou including victory in the opening 107km stage between Ma Wei and Ku Liang.
We are not talking UCI WorldTour level racing but there was a strong presence of top riders in China, some of whom started to ask themselves who this young rider was. Likewise, Xianjing, at the time just 20 years old, was discovering a few things… he had not heard of the Tour de France and did not know who Geraint Thomas was.
Fast forward one year and it has become obvious that those early results of this Chinese sensation – as he was referred to by one sports writer at the 2019 UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire (GBR) – were no flash in the pan. Last month, riding for UCI Continental Team Hengxiang Cycling Team, he became the first Chinese winner of the Tour of China II, celebrating its 10th edition this year. One week later, Xianjing was in Yorkshire for the Under-23 UCI Road World Championships where he was still in the mix when echelons formed to split an already reduced peloton with less than 60km to go.
Coming from mountain biking – popular in his home province of Yunnan – Xianjing quickly demonstrated his climbing skills when trying his luck on the road: he finished the 2018 Tour of Hainan atop the mountains classification, although admitted he had trouble handling his bike in the descents. Since then he has been on a learning curve that has seen him go from strength to strength.
“After the 2018 Tour of Hainan and Tour of Fuzhou, I got more interested in road cycling and started loving it,” he says. “I decided I would stick with it, and no matter how hard it was, I would persist.
“From 2018 to 2019 I have kept learning from different races: for example, I have learned in which position I can save energy, and how to work with good riders. I always find my own weakness during the race and after the race I practice and improve.
“My strength is climbing, and my weakness is still downhill skill, especially long distance downhill.”
The Chinese rider’s personal highlight of the year was his victory in the Tour of China II: “I didn’t aim to win but wanted to make a personal breakthrough and get stronger. When I was on the podium I was very moved and emotional, also because I had a great team and coach.”
Xianjing now knows about the Tour de France and followed the action closely in 2019. His cycling hero is Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step): “This year in the Tour de France I saw his great quality, he’s a very tough guy!”
Third this year in the Asian Mountain Bike Continental Championships, and second in the Asian Road Continental Championships, the 21-year-old has his sights set on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“My goal is to keep learning and get to a higher level. I would love to go overseas to compete. That would make me mature even faster.”
It is not the last we have heard of Lyu Xianjing.