Oct 23, 2015 – Japan may never produce a Tour de France champion but it could become a force in sprinting, according to some of the stars of today. With the Asian country gearing up for the annual Criterium de Saitama, an exhibition race created by Tour de France organizers three years ago, some of the stars of Japanese cycling admitted it may be a step too far to hope that one of their own could triumph in the most prestigious race in the world.

AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

But Fumiyuki Beppu, who rides for the Trek Factory Racing team, does believe that Japanese racers can make top class fast men. “Most of the guys like sprinting. We have a lot of mountains (in Japan) but with all the traffic lights every 10-metres, every time you have a sprint,” joked the 32-year-old, a three-time national time-trial champion. “We’re kind of sprinters because we have also the Keirin which is popular in Japan.”

Fumiyuki Beppu of Trek Factory Racing in the bunch at the 79th Fleche Wallonne

The Keirin is a track cycling race usually 2km long, with the first 1.5km raced behind a motorised pacer who gradually turns up the heat, setting up a frantic sprint finale over the final 500-metres. Tour de France champion Chris Froome, who has previously spoken of the potential in East Africa to produce a Tour winner, agrees that Japan is more likely to produce a sprinter to rival Germans like Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, or even his own countryman Mark Cavendish, often considered the greatest natural sprinter of all time.

“It would be interesting to see what could come out of Asia, I imagine they would be a lot stronger in the way of producing sprinters,” said Froome, 30, who won his second Tour in three years in July and is now aiming for his second victory over the same period in Saitama.

“If you look at traditionally the way they are built, they’re not like East Africans who are long and tall endurance athletes.

“Already there are some Japanese guys on the professional circuit who are pretty rapid, that could be something for them.” For Yukiya Arashiro, 31, of the French Europcar Team, what will make the biggest difference is having a Japanese rider claim a stage victory at the Tour de France.

“We only have two riders in Europe, that’s not many. But if we get a third, fourth, fifth, more and more, it will be better in the future,” he said.