ASO ventures into China with eyes on stage race

Tour de France organizer ASO introduces new Shanghai Criterium event for October.

The sun never sets on the ever-growing ASO cycling empire.

Just days after announcing a five-year deal with Spain’s Volta a Catalunya, Amaury Sport Organisation announced Thursday it will enter the Chinese market with a Shanghai critérium in October.

The Paris-based organizer promises to bring its top Tour de France stars for the “Étape China” in the bustling city of Shanghai on October 29. In another public event, ASO will hold a gran fondo-styled ride around the city of Changsa on September 10.

“There is growing interest in cycling in China. We want to help develop the sport,” Jean-Etienne Amaury, president of Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), told the AFP news agency. “If there are Chinese teams, there will also be interest from Chinese sponsors.”

Amaury also told AFP that the organization was stifled in an attempt to start a Chinese stage race last year, and said ASO is hoping the Shanghai event will act as a springboard for more events in China.

This latest event follows on the heels of the ASO-sponsored event in Japan with the Saitama Critérium each fall since 2013.

The venture confirms ASO’s expanding presence into foreign markets, with recent moves in Germany and Spain, and the Chinese market seems to be most enticing for race organizers. With a burgeoning middle class that is starting to ride bikes for exercise and leisure, China is viewed as cycling’s next bonanza for bike sales and sponsorship.

ASO’s plans in China are also coherent with the UCI’s growing interest in the region. For 2017, UCI added the Tour of Guangxi to its WorldTour calendar and moved its annual gala to China, to follow that six-day stage race.

The announcement follows the UCI’s blockbuster deal with the Wanda Group, with plans to hold a weeklong, WorldTour race in October in southern China.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report