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NAPLES, Italy, May 03, 2013 (AFP) – Argos-Shimano rider Ji Cheng is set to make Giro d’Italia history on Saturday when he saddles up as the first Chinese to take part in the epic race.
Ji made his Grand Tour debut at the Tour of Spain last year and his participation at the Giro has attracted no less than eight journalists from his homeland who will be covering his every move.
Although having modest personal ambitions, Ji is hoping his endeavours as part of Argos’s nine-man team help garner a win for their top sprinter, John Degenkolb.
“I am really proud to be the first Chinese rider to start the Giro,” said Ji.
“China will be following my participation and it is great to see that my team and I are known already in my home country and that we can bring attention to the sport of cycling.”
Degenkolb is one of several sprinters who will be looking to mix it up with the likes of Britain’s Mark Cavendish, a 23-time stage winner on the Tour de France who also has 10 Giro stage wins since his race debut in 2008.
For the first time in 10 years the three-week race begins with a road stage instead of a time trial or a prologue and Cavendish will pull on the race leader’s pink jersey if he wins Saturday’s opening salvo over 130 kilometres.
Ji hopes Argos’s efforts at a recent training camp in Spain, as well as their participation in the Tour of Turkey last week where Argos helped German Marcel Kittel to three stage wins, will make them competitive.
“It will be a tough race but we have had a very good preparation with the training camp at our training base in Altea, (Spain) and the Tour of Turkey last week,” added Ji.
“I would be very satisfied after three weeks if we won a stage and I complete the race.”