2009 race will 'rival Tour de France'

2007-12-11 19:08:09  China Daily      

China's Zheng Lulu (L) and Guo Shuang compete in the women's team sprint at the 2007 UCI Track Cycling World Cup, one of the testing tournaments of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Laoshan Velodrome of Beijing November 8, 2007. [Xinhua]

With his eyes firmly set on China's already colossal but still fast-growing market, world cycling boss Pat McQuaid promises to give China a new race that is "as popular as the Tour de France".

McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), said he was planning to stage a top event called "Tour of China" in 2009.

"We have a very ambitious plan," he said during the "Good Luck Beijing" 2007-08 UCI Track Cycling World Cup Classic on Saturday. "UCI will be staging the Tour of China in 2009 and make it an annual top race.

"The Tour of China will be a professional tournament different from other races held in China. This means that the world's top 18 to 20 professional teams will participate in the event for the first time in China's cycling history.

"After the Olympic Games, we will cooperate with the Chinese Cycling Association and continue to inject new excitement for bicycle events in China. For this reason, we are very, very excited for our future Tour of China.

"I believe that many bicycle fans in China know the Tour de France. We hope to make the Tour of China an event as important and popular as the Tour de France. The race would be part of the elite ProTour calendar. We are all looking forward to it."

Despite being known as the country with the most bicycles in the world, China has never had an athlete win any major road cycling race in the sport's 100-year history, so the young cyclists led by Olympic hopeful Guo Shuang could be considered pioneers for the 200 million riders back home.

With the help of UCI, China has sent out more than 20 cyclists to join overseas pro teams in Europe to allow them chances to race in more than 30 events a year, giving them more experience than they would get in China.

Two major races, the Tour of Qinghai Lake and the Tour of Hainan Island, have taken root in China and MaQuaid said the fast-growing home events, combined with a strong cycling environment following the Beijing Olympics, give him the confidence to stage another top race in China.

"I am really looking forward to the Olympic cycling competition at Beijing 2008," he said. "The test events for road cycling and mountain bike held in August were very successful and we have a track cycling race this weekend. I believe in next year's Olympic Games cycling will play a very important role and athletes' brilliant performances are worthy of expectation.

"Also, I was impressed with the success of the two pro events. China is a vast country, every year many international competitions are held here.

"In the Tour of Qinghai Lake there were four to five top teams, while in the Tour of Hainan Island there was only one to two top teams. By the time of the Tour of China, all the top teams will come."

The move reportedly comes amid a power struggle between the UCI and ASO, the organizers of the Tour de France. The UCI is trying to expand beyond the sport's traditional European base with new events that could rival the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Spanish Vuelta.

McQuaid said one of his objectives is to "take the sport outside of its traditional roots in Europe".

"We will create a global tour," he said. "It's important for our sponsors to go into these new markets. Cycling needs to offer those markets."