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China’s Wang Jianlin poised to become cycling’s richest man

MILAN (VN) — Cycling tried going to China, but it could be more successful the other way around with rumored plans that the country’s richest man wants to buy the three grand tours including the Tour de France. Wang Jianlin could strike a deal this month with RCS Sport, owner of the Giro d’Italia and other races, and could continue the spending spree with the mother of all cycling organizers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), soon after.

The 32-billion-dollar man’s Dalian Wanda Group recently created Wanda Sports after it bought Infront Sports & Media and, for $650 million, the World Triathlon Corporation along with Ironman. With Wanda Sports, he would have an arm to make his move on the grand tours — the Giro, the Tour, and the Vuelta a España.

Just how serious is Wang? Already this April he bought 20 percent in soccer club Atletico Madrid for $52 million. There is no exact number on what it would cost to buy RCS Sport or ASO, but Wanda Group should be able to cover it with Wang’s $39 billion business.

“My feeling is that the RCS deal could happen, but I don’t know about ASO,” Chen Xujie, Chinese journalist for Biketo told VeloNews.

“Wang wants these businesses to promote his real estate and tourism businesses. He bought Ironman; with it he gets people to the races and to his hotels, and maybe to buy a home. China has a huge growing middle class, with money for triathlons and tourism.”

China knows Wang as a real estate and cinema king, and as the main sponsor of its Super Soccer League. Chen added, “Everyone reads about his son, too, who is always in the celebrity and gossip pages.”

The move would put China back at the top of cycling. It once occupied a spot in the WorldTour series when the UCI created the Tour of Beijing stage race, which ran for four years with little success.

“It’s not that he is deeply passionate about the sport, but about tourism promoting his real estate,” Chen said. “If the deal goes through, I wouldn’t expect to see an overhaul of the grand tours because Wang doesn’t know enough about cycling to do so.”

Infront Sports is aware of the grand tour report that originated from a Milano Finanza article Saturday, but told VeloNews that it would not comment on any market rumors.

There could be something to it, at least regarding the RCS Sport package that includes the 100-year-old Giro d’Italia and races spanning the entire cycling calendar, from Milano-Sanremo to the end-of-season Il Lombardia. The same Italian Financial newspaper that reported the Wanda deal also reported last month that RCS Mediagroup is ready to jettison its sports subsidiary.

With a 440 million euro ($472m) debt, RCS Mediagroup must create cash flow. It is looking cut free RCS Sport and Unidad Editorial, the Spanish group that publishes newspaper Marca and other titles, after trying for months to find a new partner to ally with.

“I find it difficult to believe that they’d sell RCS Sport,” RCS Sport general manager Paolo Bellino said last month. “There haven’t been offers, and the company’s not for sale. It was never up for sale.”

If sold along with ASO, the grand tour sweep would effectively make Wang Jianlin the richest man in cycling. He would take out the ASO’s position and stand above all others including team owners Zdenek Bakala, Igor Makarov, Oleg Tinkov, James Murdoch, and Andy Rihs.