When the inaugural Tour of Guangxi was announced as a late addition to the 2017 WorldTour calendar earlier in the year, the news came as a surprise. The Wanda Sports-backed venture was a project that came together behind the scenes with little information forthcoming before the announcement, which came after the UCI had finalised the 2017 WorldTour calendar.
One of the key figures in the creation and execution of the October race was Tom Van Damme. Since 2010, Van Damme has been the Belgian cycling president and president of the UCI Road Commission, and has been a member of the UCI Management Committee and Professional Cycling Council from 2013. In 2017, he was also an early candidate for the position of UCI President.
"I have to say that in my view, it is a tremendous success and very important in the development of cycling, and the UCI WorldTour," Van Damme told Cyclingnews at the Tour of Guangxi.
Created to honour the legacy of the 2008 Beijing Games, the Tour of Beijing from 2010 to 2014 was China's first WorldTour race. Due to financial, political and sporting reasons, the race was ended in 2014.
With China's professional cycling potential yet to be fully realised, it was no surprise that Brian Cookson and the UCI were invested in returning the WorldTour to the world's most populous country. Although Cookson was defeated at the September elections, with Frenchman David Lappartient winning in convincing style, Van Damme was on the ground to witness the return of WorldTour racing to China.
"It is important we understand it is the end of the season and you have to take care of the conditions at the end of the season with riders," he said. "You need a circuit that is adapted for the end of the season and that is what I think Wanda and the organisers did perfectly."
Although sprint heavy - Fernando Gaviria won four of the six stages - the race was ultimately decided on the uphill finish at Nogla.
For the UCI and Van Damme, the Tour of Guangxi is an event of great importance but at the same time, is one piece in the larger puzzle of Chinese cycling. The investment in China and partnership with Wanda by the UCI is a long-term strategy with the mutual ambition to further develop the sport.
"The partnership between Wanda and UCI is going further than the Tour of Guangxi," Van Damme explained. "It is also about the gala in a professional way so that is can become a product also on its own. Afterwards, there is the organisation of the urban games, and world championships in different disciplines in the city. I believe very strongly in this concept because going to the city with cycling that attracts the youth can be a trigger for the development of cycling in China and the rest of the world.
"Then there is the cycling development centre which will be built with a velodrome and the objective really is to make sure in the future, Chinese riders are participating here. And why not standing on the podium?"
In 2017, a women's 1.1 Tour of Guangxi race was held on the final day of the men's race. While there was no television coverage of the event and little pre-race information, the event has been added to the women's WorldTour calendar for 2018 with a focus on gender equality in racing.
For Van Damme, steady growth and progression is crucial to the success of women's cycling. And like the project in general, the focus is long-term development over short-term success.
"We should not forget it is only one year ago that we managed the Wanda agreement and what we have done in one year is fantastic," he said. "Let's start with a normal women's race and then next year it will be WorldTour and then we can develop it. We have to do it step by step but it is already good that from the start women are involved.”
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