Former Tour de France rider Colin Lewis is suddenly one of the most wanted men in cycling.

With recent stints coaching the Philippines and Chinese national squads under his belt, the 57-year-old Paignton cycle shop owner is now being wooed by South Africa.

He also has an invitation to return to China, where he prepared their team for last month's Prutour in this country.

‘‘They want me to go back in December, to get their team sorted out for next year's Olympic Games,'' he revealed.

‘‘Whether I go back or not, I don't know. I've got to sit down and make my mind up which offer to take.''

All the signs are that Lewis, a man who has unrivalled experience both as a rider and a coach, will break new ground again in South Africa.

‘‘The sport of cycling is going global at last, especially with increased exposure on television, and South Africa are keen to get into international competition,'' he said

Lewis stressed that he has no regrets about tackling his six-week stint in China, which coincided with strong anti-Western feeling over the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo crisis.

‘‘It was a real experience, and I was tremendously pleased with the riders, who are hard workers and avid learners,'' he said.

‘‘But the sport there needs a radical shake-up.

‘‘They are gradually realising that to go forward, they need to take on Western ideas, technology and expertise, because they are in a bit of a time-warp.

‘‘It's changing gradually, but it won't be for quite a while yet.

‘‘There is no co-ordination nationally. Coaches from different provinces are fighting each other for honours.

‘‘China is like a tiger waking up, but it's only got one eye open at the moment.''

Lewis is preparing a report for the Sport For Television organisation, which sponsored his trip.

During his stint in China, Lewis experienced anger first-hand at the Kosovo bombings.

‘‘I saw the Chinese Embassy being bombed on television, and I had to get through hundreds of demonstrators outside the British Embassy in Beijing, which wasn't very funny at the time,'' he recalled.

Despite his training know-how, Lewis could not overcome the Chinese riders' lack of racing experience in the Prutour.

‘‘We lost three riders on the third stage, when they were eliminated in a group of eleven who finished outside the time-limit,'' he said.

‘‘But the other three were gradually getting up there in the last few days, which showed what they might do with more racing.

‘‘The potential there is still incredible.

‘‘In August they are holding a day when 100 cities across the country are organising bike rides, with an average entry of about 10,000 in each city - that's a million people.

‘‘It's only a matter of time before those sort of numbers start taking effect in competition.''

19/06/99

Re-printed by kind permission of the Herald Express newspaper, Torquay Devon. Their website can be found at: http://www.thisissouthdevon.co.uk