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Report: China’s richest man interested in buying ASO

Wang Jianlin, whose Dalian Wanda Group purchased the Ironman brand last year, might also be interested in ASO — and the Tour.

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MILAN (VN) — China’s richest man Wang Jianlin could buy ASO and its Tour de France. A report in the Wall Street Journal claims his Dalian Wanda Group will invest in Europa City near Paris and possibly make a push for cycling’s top organizer.

The Wanda group already tried to take over RCS Sport and its races, which includes the Giro d’Italia, in December. Money was not an issue for the $39 billion group, just that RCS Mediagroup decided to keep its sports subsidiary. Wang’s sights are now on France.

The Journal reported how the Dalian Wanda Group is pushing into L’hexagone for the first time with Europa City, a multi-use development project in the northern suburbs of Paris. The Chinese group would likely invest in the project’s amusement park. The opening date is set for 2024, but other French acquisitions could take place beforehand.

“Wanda is also interested in potentially buying Amaury Sport Organisation, people familiar with Wanda’s plans said,” reports the Journal. “They cautioned that the Tour de France deal isn’t as advanced and discussions remained at early stages.”

ASO owns 19 events and organizes three others, with seven of those in the UCI WorldTour. More than 180 countries receive the Tour de France broadcast.

The Wanda Group recently bought Infront Sports & Media and for $650 million, the World Triathlon Corporation along with Ironman. The German one-day Vattenfall Cyclassics race, which American Tyler Farrar won twice, now falls under that umbrella.

Infront made headlines this week when it reached a 10-year deal with cycling group Velon. ASO has been at odds with Velon, but if the Wanda deal happens, that would quickly change.

ASO is looking to change its ways. In December, it said it would pull all of its races from the WorldTour for 2017 because it disagreed with the UCI’s reforms. VeloNews asked Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme if there was room to negotiate and he said the UCI must first get a handle on motorized cheating. “If that problem is not sorted out, then what is the point of talking about anything else?” he said.

The Journal report suggests that further up the ladder something may be changing. The Amaury family may not want to let ASO go, but one cannot deny that Wang is serious. Last April, his group bought a 20 percent stake in Atletico Madrid for $52 million. He splashed into Hollywood by buying Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion in January.

China knows Wang Jianlin as a real estate and cinema king and as the main sponsor of its Super Soccer League.

“Wang wants these businesses to promote his real estate and tourism businesses,” Chen Xujie, a Chinese journalist for Biketo, told VeloNews in December. “He bought Ironman, with it he gets people to the races and to his hotels, and maybe to buy a home. China has a huge growing middle class, with money for triathlons and tourism.”

Lance Armstrong discussed with investors in 2009 about buying the Tour de France. Nothing came of it and an anti-doping investigation eventually proved Armstrong to be a cheat.