GUILIN, China (VN) — The Tour of Guangxi racing through south China is building an important bridge for cycling between the east and west.
The WorldTour race, which completed its second annual edition on Sunday, brings opportunities along with all the top teams. Cycling and sport has essentially created its own link similar to the Chinese government’s Belt and Road Initiative of infrastructure development and investments.
“The culture is not the same as it is in Europe, definitely, but it’s growing, people have an interest, they like spectating,” British cyclist Hugh Carthy (EF Education First-Drapac) told VeloNews.
“It’s very important this year with EF Education First as our new sponsor. Behind the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, it’s the most important race for EF.
“We have the biggest amount of employees here in their company. So for them, it’s a really big deal that we are here, and bring a good team and a competitive team.
“For us, it’s a big deal. We took it seriously, we come here motivated. It definitely hasn’t been a holiday.”
Warm, rainy weather greeted the peloton on most of the race’s six days as it rode from the hotels for the stage starts. However, the riders can see the opportunities through the cloud cover.
“It’s the new generation of cycling, not only in Europe, but all over the world,” said German Champion Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe).
“China’s a big market for us. Hansgrohe has 10 percent amount in China. It’s important for us to be here.”
Companies like Bora, which produces kitchen hoods, and Hansgrohe, which makes bathroom finishings, fund the German team with star Peter Sagan. Racing in the east allows the executives easy marketing opportunities and a chance to meet many big-money clients.
The country surprisingly only counts one WorldTour professional. However, Chinese companies are reaching for opportunities to promote sport with business.
Wanda Sports, a subsidiary of the $40-billion-dollar Dalian Wanda Group, debuted the Tour of Guangxi in 2017 after acquiring the World Triathlon Corporation and Ironman. With the race, Wanda builds its sports group and promotes its property developments.
Others are working on similar bridges. Earlier this month, GCP announced goals to create China’s first WorldTour team by 2020 with a budget that could top any of their rivals. With the business deals, it wants to increase the number of Chinese professional cyclists and produce the country’s Tour de France winner. Anything seems possible in a country of 1.386 billion and an economic growth rate of 6.5 percent.
“There’s a big business potential coming to China,” said Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data). “And doing a bike race here, you can see the people are really into it here. It’s pretty cool.”
Wanda looked beyond the capital city of Beijing and bustling Shanghai for the Guangxi with its Karst peaks and rivers. On Friday, Gianni Moscon (Sky) won the summit stage in the Mashan mountains and took the red leader’s jersey. The province lacks the economic punch of other areas, but it makes up for it with its clean air and lush landscapes.
The 2018 route snaked its way from Beihai’s seaside to Guilin’s famous pagodas for the finish. Along the way it stopped in Nanning, a city not widely known abroad but boasts a population of 6.9 million people — more than Los Angeles.
“It’s good to have,” said Jürgen Roelandts (BMC Racing) of the race.
“It’s well organized, you see the transfers after the race, they close everything. I can’t imagine this in Belgium. Chapeau to the organization.”
“It’s nice for China, all the riders, and how many people are there, so much,” Rémi Cavagna (Quick-Step Floors) explained. “It’s impressive, some million fans out there. It’s unbelievable.”
“It’s nice for the Chinese people to see it,” added Janse van Rensburg. “It’s good for the globalization of the sport and it should go to new continents.”