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Chinese ‘Breakaway Killer’

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Ji Cheng, the first Chinese cyclist to ride the Tour de France, says he will just be hoping to survive when the Grand Boucle reaches the high mountains.

AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

Ji was a visible presence throughout the first week of the Tour, often riding at the front of the peloton on stages earmarked for ace sprinter Marcel Kittel, his Giant-Shimano team leader.

The Chinese star, 26, lived up to his nickname of ‘the breakaway killer’ as he put in long shifts on the front of the peloton to ensure escapees couldn’t make it all the way to the finish.

But now the Tour has hit the hilly Vosges, and with the Alps not far down the road, Ji says his aim will simply be to cling onto the back of the peloton.

“Two days ago we were pulling the whole day in the front. I still have really heavy legs. I hope to get lucky and that I can survive on the climbs,” he said. 

“For me sometimes the mountain stages are about survival. We (Giant) are only looking to win the sprint stages and we’re putting a lot of energy into that. It means I’ve lost a lot of energy on that, especially in my position working the whole day on the front. 

“I need more than a day to recover and come back to my normal level. I’ll try to survive but the Tour de France is not a race where you can relax. Every day they are fighting. The climbing has started now and the GC (general classification) teams are starting so we’re just trying to save energy as much as possible, be smart and see what happens.”

Ji has gradually found the going tougher and tougher on his debut Tour, despite having previously ridden both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana. On Sunday night he was second last overall, just seven seconds ahead of Edward King and more than 10 minutes behind the next lowest rider, Frenchman Christophe Riblon. 

His toughest moment came on Saturday when he finished last on the stage, although only by 20 seconds.

But he says he wasn’t worried about missing the time cut-off point. “(On Saturday) the climb to the end you have enough time to survive, you just have to take it easy, don’t stretch yourself or expend so much energy on that. I know there are big stages coming,” he said. 

On Sunday he had been worried about the time cut-off which was 25 minutes but he came home safely in a large enough grupetto that he would likely have survived even if they had missed it.

As it was they were only 21:38 behind race winner Tony Martin. Even so, he remains positive about the experience and says he’s receiving a lot of support from back home.

“It’s enjoyable, I’m just enjoying it. Every day a lot of people send me messages on Chinese Weebo, a couple of hundred (every day),” he added.