The brand new Tour of Beijing will boost domestic cycling in China, estimates the UCI which organizes the race through its Global Cycling Promotion (GCP).
Asked about the prospect of a major Chinese team, perhaps at a WorldTour level, UCI President Pat McQuaid said, “It could happen quicker than we imagine. We can expect something in five or six years. There is an interest and a market here, and sponsors want an exposure in Europe.”
A few hours before the Tour of Beijing launch on Wednesday, UCI managers underlined that China is the world’s second-largest economy.
Road cycling's success in that country will take time, however. Cyclingnews understands that a Pro Continental project supported by Chinese funds collapsed last winter. The team was due to race in Australia, Europe and Asia, and was to include European and Chinese riders.
The birth of the Tour of Beijing also took longer than expected. McQuaid recalled that the idea emerged during the 2008 Olympics, and the race was announced in the 2009 calendar and then finally postponed until this year. The UCI believes that China is now ready to start this new race's adventure.
The impact in China
A Chinese national squad will be part of the bunch at the Tour of Beijing, made up of nine riders who trained in recent weeks at the World Cycling Center, in Switzerland. It's likely that a strong showing from the team would have a positive impact on Chinese followers.
The UCI was cautious about speculating on the numbers who would gather to watch the race from the roadside. “The Tour of Beijing will happen during the week of the national holiday so we don't know if it will push people to go to see the race,” Alain Rumpf said.
The GCP Director insists that “2011 is an experimentation year.” The Tour of Beijing might take place at least until 2014 given its four-year WorldTour license.
The race might accelerate the ambitions of Chinese cycling but those of Western teams too. “Several teams will have a sponsor in the car during the race,” McQuaid noted.
Cyclingnews understands that some squads like Skil-Shimano and Geox-TMC even considered asking for a wild card invitation to the race as their main sponsors had a strong interest in the Chinese market.
The UCI president admitted that the radio ban conflict with some WorldTour managers and the threatened boycott were solved through the sponsors' desire to send their squads to China.
Tour of Beijing is therefore a business and marketing blessing, both for the UCI and for cycling globalization, and for the WorldTour teams. That may also be the case for Chinese cycling and for the Beijing authorities too, who expect to encourage locals to use their bike rather than their car.