BEIJING (VN) — The inaugural Tour of Beijing clicks into gear Wednesday with much anticipation among the peloton about the longterm prospect of Chinese sponsorship dollars pumping into the sport.
Teams are salivating at the chance to tap into the burgeoning Chinese market and several squads here will have one eye on capturing the attention of a potential sponsors over the next five days of racing.
UCI president Pat McQuaid said bringing elite professional racing into the heart of the Chinese capital should reap benefits for the sport in the coming years.
“This event means a lot to the future of the sport,” McQuaid told journalists Tuesday. “Road racing has never really taken off in China. This is a potentially huge market for cycling.”
WIth stalling economies across Europe and North American, teams will be looking to new frontiers like China to find future sponsorship dollars to underwrite their multi-million-dollar budgets.
The race has strong support from the city and regional government and has signed a four-year contract with the UCI to host the Tour of Beijing through 2015.
“One of the reasons we’re bringing the race to China is that there will be more interest from Chinese businesses. There will be potential sponsors in the team cars this week,” McQuaid said. “(A Chinese team sponsor) could happen quicker than we imagine. We can expect something in the next five years. They want the exposure in Europe that sponsoring a bike team can bring.”
Teams are not missing the marketing potential that comes with the five-day race in China.
RadioShack, for example, is bringing along some of its top corporate brass and VIPs to the race this week.
Mixing business and bikes is one of the main reasons the UCI, under its commercial arm Global Cycling Promotion, is entering the Chinese marketplace.
Alain Rumpf, the GCP manager, said cycling needs to have a presence in the world’s second largest economy if it wants to secure its financial viability.
“The Tour of Beijing is helping to open a new market for cycling,” Rumpf said. “We hope we will have Chinese companies interested in sponsoring teams in the future.”
The UCI has been catching some flack for its role in promoting the race and taking an ownership role with the Tour of Beijing, but that’s a bet that McQuaid said is worth it.
“We have to take the initiative. The sport has been very Euro-centric and the UCI has taken the initiative to take it beyond Europe. Others have tried to come to China and have failed,” McQuaid said. “And any funds we might make from the race, they won’t go into the pockets of anyone, they will go into the development of the sport.”
Those blurring lines might make some uncomfortable, but just about everyone agrees that cycling only stands to gain by entering the Chinese market.
Whether that results in wealthier, stronger teams remains to be seen. The next five days could plant some important seeds for Chinese sponsors moving into the elite pro level of the sport.
At least that’s what everyone who’s in Beijing this week is hoping for.