FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — It is time the WorldTour returns to China, say insiders after this week’s news that the UCI added the Tour of Guangxi to its top racing series.
Asia’s richest man Wang Jianlin, who reportedly made bids to buy ASO’s and RCS Sport’s races, will own and run the new event via his Wanda Sports group. It will cover six days with a women’s WorldTour race and side events. It marks the 38th and final event in an already busy WorldTour schedule, but it builds a new bridge to the Far East.
“Definitely, it’s time,” Alain Rumpf said. “In some ways, I think time has been lost because there was already a race in Beijing.”
The Swiss presided over Global Cycling Productions, a branch the UCI created to run the Tour of Beijing starting in 2011. When Brian Cookson won the UCI presidential election and took over for Pat McQuaid, the race ended following the 2014 edition.
Rumpf saw first hand the benefits of taking top-level cycling to China, where the sport is growing quickly. As the UCI said in its press release early Thursday morning, “The world’s most populous country also has 10 million active cycling fans, 20,000 cycling clubs, 100 cycling events and 15,000 bike stores. The size of the Chinese cycling sports market has grown to $1.5 billion with the industry expecting to reach a growth rate of 20% by 2023.”
Rumpf spent months every year in China to prepare for the Tour of Beijing, which Tony Martin won twice and Philippe Gilbert last won.
“The number of race days is growing and there are more people riding bikes,” Rumpf said. “It’s booming. Maybe we don’t see that from Europe, but you can ride gran fondos all the time now in China, big events with huge participation.
“I’m not saying that the Tour of Beijing was a perfect project, things could have been done differently and we learned lessons. I hope that the new Chinese race will be better than the Tour of Beijing and that it will really help strength sport as a whole.”
Complaints existed, from Beijing’s infamous smog to the lack of fans. Rumpf explained that the fans exist, even more so now, but that during the Tour of Beijing the over-zealous police often kept them away out of security fears. Outside the capital city at the stage starts and finishes, more fans arrived and lined the roads.
In its four years, the race traveled north along the Great Wall and visited historic palaces. For cycling, the autonomous Guangxi region bordering Vietnam offers much richer terrain with its rivers, gorges, and karst peaks.
“A new race is always good for cycling given there are races that are dying,” Max Sciandri said. The BMC Racing sport director guided Gilbert to his 2014 win in Beijing.
“The only negative part is that the WorldTour calendar is stretched quite a bit and the riders are spread thin. It pushes teams to their maximum going to the other side of the world mid-October to end of the season. You always need points, so you go.”
With WorldTour races already in North America, the Middle East, Australia, and of course Europe, Sciandri said it was time to return in China.
“The races have always been there, but maybe we failed to give them enough attention like we did in the Middle East,” he added. “In the end, China has races and cyclists, and we should help it grow. It’s good for them and for cycling.”
Wanda Sports agreed with the UCI on a three-year deal, through 2019. In addition, the group is due to build a cycling center with a 250-meter indoor track, a BMX track, and a road circuit.
“We are happy Wanda took it up,” said Richard Plugge, manager of the Dutch WorldTour LottoNL – Jumbo team. “I was always in favor of the Tour of Beijing. This one is a good replacement.
“It’s good for both, for globalization of the cycling calendar and good for China to have a race at the highest level to develop the sport over there. There’s huge potential in China.”