Plans for a new professional Chinese team have been launched, with Brian Smith set to act as manager and Shane Sutton in a development role. Known as the Global Cycling Project, or GCP, the team aims to help drive the growth of cycling in China and produce a first Chinese winner of the Tour de France by 2024.
The team's website states they will have "a sole Chinese sponsor" but have not finalised who this will be and are still appealing to potential investors.
The set-up will comprise a professional team that is envisaged to race in the WorldTour, the top-tier of international cycling, and a Europe-based development team that aims to develop Chinese talent.
The website outlines the team's aims to race in the WorldTour in 2019, stating: "The team will be in all major races including the Tour de France from year 1 (July 2019)." However, all 18 spots on the 2019 WorldTour are set to be filled by the current 18 WorldTour teams, all of whom have licences in place provided they pass the UCI's routine administrative checks.
Questioned about this on social media, Smith stated instead that 2020 will be the year the team hopes to enter the WorldTour. It is unclear if the team will launch in the Professional Continental ranks in 2019.
The 2020 season will see the start of the new-look WorldTour under UCI president David Lappartient's reforms and although plans to reduce the top-tier to 15 teams were scrapped, competition for the 18 spots is expected, which could see UCI rankings points come into play. In that event, the GCP team might have to sign points-rich riders this time next year - in a similar manner to Bahrain-Merida in 2016 - or risk having to wait until 2023 to enter the WorldTour given the new three-year licences.
"The Global Cycling Project will deliver the first Chinese World Tour professional cycling team, with the vision and passion to create the biggest professional cycling team in the world," states Tim Kay, the project's CEO who has worked in property and construction.
Under a section entitled 'Vision', the team's website states: "GCP will build a sustainable development program for the integration of international athletes to the World tour. The team will have a sole Chinese sponsor and to offer a global marketing platform to the exciting world of professional cycling. The vision of GCP is to present a top tier world Tour Cycling team and a 2024 Chinese Tour de France winner, building the exposure of professional cycle racing globally, while promoting the positive effects of cycling in China and reducing the severe air pollution issues."
Meiyin Wang of Bahrain-Merida is currently the only Chinese rider competing at WorldTour level, and there have only been a handful of others before him. Cheng Ji made history in 2014 by becoming the first Chinese rider to race the Tour de France when riding for Giant-Shimano.
UAE Team Emirates nearly became the first Chinese-registered WorldTour team in 2017 as the old Lampre-Merida set-up arranged a deal with TJ Sports, only to see it fall through before last-minute investment from the UAE.
There are currently nine Chinese-registered Continental teams, among them Mitchelton-BikeExchange, a development arm of the Mitchelton-Scott WorldTour team that now has seven Chinese riders gaining experience in Europe. Previously, Champion-System was China's only professional team, competing at Pro Continental level between 2010 and 2013.
The GCP's development team hopes to follow suit in providing Chinese riders with a pathway to the top level of the sport. Former British Cycling coach Sutton, who currently works with China's cycling federation on their track programme, will lead this aspect as the GCP aims to support grass-roots cycling in China and offer them a ticket to Europe.
"We look to offer the best athletes a place on our development program in Girona (Spain) where the athletes will be housed and paid to race as full-time athletes on a European based race program," reads the team's website.
"The development program will offer full support and guidance to the athletes from the best coaches and support staff in the world, with the on hand guidance from the best cyclist in cycling. GCP want to create the best possible and clear path to the World Tour team and to ride with the best cyclists and races in the world."