Why does pro cy­cling strug­gle to crack China?

Ri­valry and re­luc­tant in­vestors could be to blame

Cycling Weekly - - News - By Gre­gor Brown in Guangzhou

The in­ter­na­tional pelo­ton com­pleted what was viewed by the riders and staff as a suc­cess­ful in­au­gu­ral Tour of Guangxi this week in China, a coun­try that de­spite be­ing the most pop­u­lous still lags be­hind in the pro pelo­ton. The Peo­ple’s Repub­lic fields zero teams and counts only one rider in the Worldtour ranks.

It has, how­ever, made some progress in re­cent years. It fielded Pro­fes­sional Con­ti­nen­tal team Cham­pion Sys­tem, hosted the top-level Tour of Bei­jing for four years, and cel­e­brated Cheng Ji, the first Chi­nese cy­clist to de­but in all three Grand Tours, in­clud­ing the Tour de France in 2014. Al­though many of these have been fleet­ing, the Tour of Guangxi has some­thing to build on.

What are the chances of the Tour of Guangxi con­tin­u­ing? Asia’s sec­ond rich­est man, Jian­lin Wang, sup­ports the race via the Wanda Sports group. Be­sides Guangxi, China counts the long-run­ning events Tour of China, Tour of Qing­hai Lake and Tour of Hainan. Cy­cling there has a much big­ger am­a­teur scene, though. Out of around 400 races, only eight are pro­fes­sional.

Will the race boost China’s ap­petite cy­cling? Just look­ing at the roads it was clear the six-day tour drew sig­nif­i­cantly more spec­ta­tors than the Tour of Bei­jing, which ceased in 2014. At most starts and fin­ishes, groups of spec­ta­tors ar­rived on ex­pen­sive road bikes. “It’s not just the boost from the tours or the 2008 Olympics, but a grow­ing number of peo­ple rid­ing their bikes,” says Chi­nese jour­nal­ist Xu­jie Chen, from web­site Biketo. “Since the 2014 Tour of Bei­jing, when there were around 500 to 1,000 riders at sportive and fun ride events, the num­bers have grown to 4,000.”

“A break­through would be for prov­inces to work to­gether; sup­port one strong team”

Why are there no top-end teams? Neigh­bour­ing coun­try Kaza­khstan sup­ports team As­tana, but China has no Worldtour or Pro­fes­sional Con­ti­nen­tal teams. The 11 Chi­nese Con­ti­nen­tal teams field around 100 Uci-reg­is­tered cy­clists in to­tal. The govern­ment “is more and more in­volved with in­creased fund­ing,” adds Chen. “We have a higher number of cy­cling staff to cre­ate teams, so teams could be formed but we still don’t have the re­sults to en­cour­age that.”

Why does China’s track suc­cess not trans­late to road suc­cess?

Women have won keirin gold medals at the Worlds as well as gold in the team sprint at the 2014 Rio Olympics. “The Hong Kong coach tells me that with the av­er­age body size, Asians are suited to the track,” Chen says. “And China puts more weight be­hind its track pro­gramme be­cause it has more chances for gold medals there than on the road.”

What needs to hap­pen to raise the level on the road? The in­ter-prov­ince ri­valry is so strong that it over­shad­ows in­ter­na­tional goals. The break­through would be to en­cour­age the prov­inces to work to­gether to sup­port one strong team. Money could come from China’s rich in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses, but in­sid­ers say they cur­rently fail to see the com­mer­cial ben­e­fit from spon­sor­ship. The Tour of Guangxi, won by Tim Wel­lens (Lotto-soudal) on Tues­day, could help change those views.

Can cy­cling in China catch up with the pro pelo­ton?

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