The UCI’s ambitious plans to further expand the WorldTour into China took a hit Tuesday when the cycling federation confirmed that the planned Tour of Hangzhou would be postponed until 2013.
The Tour of Beijing, set for its second edition October 9-13, will be held as planned.
Citing a lack of guarantee that the race would meet WorldTour standards, UCI officials said Tuesday that delaying the Hangzhou tour, scheduled for October 17-21, until next year was the prudent choice.
“We put in a lot of work to stage the first edition of the event in 2012, but we needed a little more time to fine-tune certain internal matters in China,” said Global Cycling Promotions director Alain Rumpf in a press release Tuesday. “In choosing to delay the first edition, we can ensure that the event will meet the expectations of all our partners, as was the case last year with the Tour of Beijing.”
Last year, the Beijing tour saw 18 WorldTour teams trek to China to take part in a five-day race that received mostly positive reviews from riders and teams despite some initial hesitancy about the long travel involved to arrive to Asia.
Tony Martin won the first edition that saw a mix of stages in central Beijing as well as taking in some of the more remote countryside beyond the metropolitan sprawl of the Chinese capital.
The race was well organized, so much so that overzealous Chinese security personnel largely kept curious fans at bay. That’s something that organizers promise will change this year as UCI and ASO officials work closely with Chinese authorities to fine-tune the race.
The two Chinese races are part of the UCI’s controversial plans to promote and take ownership in events beyond traditional cycling markets under the guise of its Global Cycling Promotion.
The UCI insists there is no conflict of interest between its role as a governing body and its financial stake in GCP, which is registered as a separate legal entity in Switzerland. Critics are not so sure.
There was an ugly fight last year in the months ahead of the first Beijing tour when teams threatened to boycott the race if the UCI continued to push for a ban on two-way race radio in WorldTour events. Both sides agreed to a cease-fire and the first Beijing tour was held with the top teams present.
Some riders grumbled that the race did not deserve WorldTour status nor the points that come with it, with one Spanish rider saying it was a “joke” that a new race promoted by the UCI should have the same status as such historic events as Paris-Nice or the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The UCI put a positive spin on Tuesday’s news, with UCI president Pat McQuaid saying the Tour of Hangzhou remains “a very important element in the UCI’s strategy for the development of cycling, and the decision to postpone the organization of this event will have no negative consequences on the project.”
So far, other efforts to expand the reach of GCP events to other countries have taken a slow road. Officials say they do not want to rush forward without solid backing from local officials and authorities, but said such BRIC countries as Brazil, Russia, India and China fit into the world vision of the UCI.
The UCI insists races such as the Tour of Beijing will help globalize the sport and generate interest from media and sponsors in largely untapped cycling markets.