China will have its own national team in the Tour of Beijing later this month. The first Chinese WorldTour event takes place between October 5-9, with five stages in and around the Chinese capital. Although there have been threats to boycott the event, Cyclingnews understands that negotiations between the UCI and the WorldTour teams are progressing in a positive direction.
However, the inclusion of a Chinese national team is a milestone for the nation's cycling development and a key stepping stone in the long path to eventually creating a Chinese-backed WorldTour team.
"With my European point of view it might take five to ten years until we see a Chinese WorldTour team," Alain Rumpf, head of the UCI's Global Cycling Promotion (GCP), told Cyclingnews. "If you look at what Australia has done and where they were 20 years ago - they have just won the Tour and they'll have a top team next year. China is different, it might be faster. They delivered an incredible Olympics even though it was the first time they put on an event of that magnitude. There's certainly a potential there from a sporting and commercial point of view."
At present, only a handful of Chinese riders compete within the European peleton so the majority of the national team for the Tour of Beijing will be hand-selected by the national federation from the home crop of talent. Those selected will travel to Aigle, Switzerland to train at the UCI's headquarters in the coming weeks. Still, Rumpf, who as part of the GCP has helped to organise the Tour of Beijing, believes that the riders selected will be good enough to compete at the WorldTour level.
"If you look at the ranking they're not high but they're not racing abroad a lot. At the moment the most important event for them isn't the Olympics but the China Games, which is the national sports games where every province fights for glory and medals. So each province has their own team and they train for that instead of racing abroad. The next games are in 2013.
"They're skilled enough to race because they've been riding and racing for years. They're professional and have been identified as promising kids and trained accordingly."
Moreover, Rumpf underlined his trust in the race organisation and their assessment. "The Chinese organisation is confident to enter a team so they think that they will be at the right level, otherwise I don't think they would have done it," he added. "The race isn't of a high difficulty with one mountain stage, while the rest isn't that difficult. If this was the Dauphiné, then yes, I would be concerned, but the Tour of Beijing is a little bit different and you have to start somewhere."
While the progress of one batch of riders may be short-term, the long-term goals are impressive. As well talent improvement, the biggest opportunity lies in commercial revenues, both for the sport's governing body but also sponsorship deals for teams.
"We're very keen on having this programme and cooperation with the Chinese cycling organisation because for us it's not just a race, but a platform for the whole sport. We want to take this opportunity to help Chinese cycling and eventually in a couple of years I'm confident that we'll have Chinese riders racing in the WorldTour," Rumpf explained.