UCI officials say they will push ahead with plans to hold the Tour of Beijing despite a call Thursday for a protest by the top professional teams of the inaugural event scheduled for October.
Top teams say they are taking aim at the UCI-backed Beijing race because they do not want to harm other race organizers who are caught in the middle of a growing battle between the disgruntled teams and the UCI over the race radio ban and a host of other issues.
Alain Rumpf, the UCI’s point man on the Beijing race, told VeloNews on Thursday that the race will move forward with its development plans despite the growing rancor between the UCI and the teams.
“I do not see this affecting the planning of the race,” Rumpf told VeloNews. “There is a lot of excitement for this race and this event is a huge opportunity for the teams, the sponsors, the bike manufacturers. They are very interested in going to China and racing there. We hope this will be resolved between all parties.”
VeloNews spoke with Rumpf in detail on Wednesday about the UCI’s plans to expand the WorldTour into the important emerging market of China. Here are excerpts from the interview a day before the teams decided to protest the race:
VN: First, Alain, tell us about your job and what your duties include.
AR: I am director of global cycling promotion. It was a unit created in September 2009 precisely to help the creation of new events in strategic countries for the globalization of road cycling. Globalization has been part of the UCI mission and part of the ProTour since 2005, which was to help the quality and stability for the teams and organizers, but it was also about including new races in the ProTour calendar. We added Poland, Germany, Australia, it was part of the plan. In 2009, the management committee created a dedicated unit to promote that. There’s a huge potential for road events around the world. We do not just want to wait for the projects to come, but we want to actively go out and help when we can.
VN: You recently returned from China, how many days were you there? How many trips have you made to China?
AR: I was there about a week this time. This is my third visit. I was there in November, February and now this latest trip.
VN: So it’s sure that the Chinese race will happen this year?
AR: Yes, the race is scheduled from October 5-9. Initially, it is for five days. We will see how it goes, but five days is a good amount of racing. We have to take into consideration some factors: that it’s the end of the season, the riders are tired. We will evaluate it after the first edition, but it’s part of a long-term plan. We have a four-year agreement with the city of Beijing. They want to build something solid and for the future. It will be a UCI WorldTour race. That’s already been approved. The race still needs to receive a world-tour license, but that process is ongoing.
VN: Who is supporting the race in Beijing?
AR: It has the full support of the Beijing city government. They are fully behind the race. For them, first of all, it’s a way to establish Beijing as a major international sports hub. That’s one of the goals of the city, to take advantage of what they achieved with Olympics. They will also be hosting the world athletics championship in 2015. They have the China Open in tennis. They are very open to attract sport events. It’s also way to promote the image of Beijing around the world, because we all know that road cycling is a great tool for that. Unlike tennis or soccer, which are in closed stadiums, with a bike race, you see the city, the countryside, the mountains. It can show off the country and region very well. It’s also part a strategy of city to put Beijing citizens back on their bike and limit their traffic problems. It’s part of a very comprehensive plan of the city of Beijing. We are working directly with the Beijing Sports Bureau, as it’s called. It’s going well.
VN: How is the race coming together so far? Are the stages already decided?
AR: Things are progressing very well. We have very motivated people there working for the race. As I mentioned on Twitter, the course is almost finalized (Editor’s note: Rumpf’s Twitter account is www.twitter.com/alainrumpf). We cannot give details now, those will come with the official launch of race later in the spring. It’s a good course, it includes many of the iconic places in Beijing and its surroundings. It’s a well-balanced course, something for everybody, for sprinters, climbers. It’s hard work to build a race. They are starting from scratch. We are bringing to them as much cycling expertise as we can. There is a very good collaboration. It’s been a great experience.
VN: Can you talk about some of the reasons why the UCI is so interested in entering the Chinese market?
AR: It’s the reality. China is a strategic country, not only for cycling but for all sport and the economy in general. This race should be seen as a platform for the whole sport in this country. It’s a platform for the riders, the teams and their sponsors. The race will be broadcast live in China and around the world. It will increase the visibility for the sponsors and China is an important market for them. Almost all of the big teams are interested in China. They are looking at going into the Chinese market. It is also important for the bike industry. They are also very enthusiastic. And from purely sporting point of view, it’s a way to development Chinese officials, cyclists and Asian cycling in general. We don’t want to have just a race, but also have training and coaching programs available for athletes. Hopefully in a few years, the level of Chinese racing will improve and we’ll have Chinese cyclists on ProTour teams. That’s the mission of the UCI. The race is really just a platform to promote the whole cycling family in China.
VN: How are you dealing with issues of pollution and road safety, which were big concerns ahead of the Beijing Olympics?
AR: These are elements we are taking into account and monitoring closely. The integrity of the athletes is the primary concern. We are working on that together with the Chinese authorities and the fact that these things were addressed properly in Beijing during the Olympics gives us confidence.
VN: What about issues of human rights, Tibet? Does that come into the equation?
AR: This is politics and the UCI is a non-political organization. It’s not our intention to get involved in those issues. We won’t comment on that.
VN: Looking to other markets, where do you see the WorldTour expanding in the coming years?
AR: There is a huge potential for road cycling around the world, in India, South Africa, in South America. The Olympics in Brazil in 2016 will give a huge boost to the sport in this region. It’s the UCI’s goal to make cycling more global, to strengthen the Olympic status of the sport. That is one of the criteria of the Olympic sports by the IOC is the globalization of the sport, so we need to work on that. This is a key goal, and it’s also important for the cycling community, the sponsors, and the teams. We are following with a lot of interest what’s happening in those countries, in the new races that are happening.
VN: Besides China, how many other projects are you working on at the moment?
AR: China is the project at the moment that is the most advanced. I have a rather long list of potential projects on my desk, but it’s too soon to mention any of them. There are quite a few and we know that not all of them will happen. I am very optimistic that we’ll have more races in the near future.