MENTAUGOU, China (VN) — With the inaugural Tour of Beijing midway through its first edition, the UCI is quietly setting the stage for further expansion of its global network.
Russia is the most likely candidate for a new project involving the UCI’s commercial arm — Global Cycling Promotion — with an event possibly on line in time for the 2013 season.
“It’s one of the next projects we are looking at,” GCP director Alain Rumpf told a handful of journalists Friday morning. “The 2012 calendar is already set. We have had no site visits yet, but the Russians are interested.”
Talks of a major Russian race have been making the rounds the past few years as part of a renewed effort within the Russian cycling federation that also includes the Katusha pro team to try to revive cycling to the glory days seen during the former Soviet Union.
Initial efforts to create a Russian stage race were focused around Sochi, a city along the Black Sea set to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The scale of that project, however, has since prompted Russian officials to consider other cities, such as Moscow or St. Petersburg.
Discussions are still in the early stages and a firm proposal is not on the table.
Russian officials, led by ex-pro Andre Tchmil, are visiting the Tour of Beijing this week to see how the race unfolds.
Rumpf confirmed earlier comments to VeloNews by UCI president Pat McQuaid that the GCP is focusing on projects beyond the established cycling markets of Europe, North America and Australia.
Expanding into places such as Brazil, Russia, India and China — nicknamed the BRIC countries — fits into the global vision of the UCI, Rumpf said.
“We are looking to develop projects in these countries. We have to be realistic about local conditions, and look at projects that have full government support,” Rumpf said. “It’s a big challenge to bring the pro peloton to a new country. We want to do it right and not take risks that it will fail.”
The Beijing city government is fully backing this week’s race. Roads are closed from start to finish and hundreds of security personnel line the route to guarantee rider safety.
Chinese officials are perhaps over-zealous in keeping fans behind barriers, but the on-the-ground investment into the five-day race is clear to everyone here this week.
The UCI’s China venture has drawn heavy criticism from some critics, however, who say the cycling federation should not be in the business of running and organizing events.
Rumpf, however, defended the Tour of Beijing and said the race would have never happened if the UCI had not been directly involved in the project.
“This race is here because the UCI was involved,” Rumpf said. “The Chinese government wants to deal only with institutions and governments. The UCI, in a way, is the government of cycling. Many private ventures have tried to enter Chinese cycling and have failed.”
The roots of the Tour of Beijing date back to the 2008 Olympic Games. City officials want to maintain Beijing as a high-profile sports destination and have backed such events as the China Open in tennis as well as playing host to the 2015 world athletics championships.
Rumpf said discussions with Beijing officials suddenly gained steam in the summer of 2010 and that a deal was finalized only last November.
Rumpf said any future expansion of new races would go “step-by-step” at a measured pace that would integrate into the existing elite professional calendar.
“It’s not that we want to globalize the sport at any price. It has to be the right event, the right country and the right market,” he said. “We want to have sustainable globalization that will last for years.”