Following the conclusion of the 2017 Tour De France, John Acton wondered if a Chinese cyclist had ever entered the race. He also pondered as to what road cycling he could watch in the Middle Kingdom…
Four times Tour De France winner Chris Froome was once second to China’s Haijun Ma in the defunct UCI B World Championships. Froome then cycled for Kenya in the Men’s 26.8km individual time trial, held in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2011, October, Froome finished third overall at the inaugural Tour of Beijing. He finished 26 seconds behind overall winner, Tony Martin. In reading about recent Tour de France editions, I still could not see any link to Chinese cyclists or entrants. Strange, as many bikes and components are made in China.
So, who represents the second most inhabited country on Earth? Currently, on the international stage, 28-year-old Wang Meiyin [王美银] represents Team Bahrain-Merida. Xu Gang [徐刚] entered made his debut at the 2015 Giro d’Italia. In 2014, Liu Wei (March 5, 1967) was noted to be one of the oldest professional cyclists ever. He cycled for Chinese UCI Continental team, China Yindonli–Wildto Cycling Team (YDL). Hmmm, but no mention of the grandest of Grand Tours.
Then I struck gold, unlike retired cyclist Jì Chéng (计成). He was Tour de France’s first ever Chinese entrant. He finished last, awarded the lanterne rouge, or red lantern, meaning the last competitor to cross the finish line, usually the one with the lowest overall finishing time. This award is held in high regard, meaning that cyclist has continued – rather than dropping out. Team Giant-Shimano probably didn’t expect a podium finish. The Hā’ěrbīn (哈尔滨) born cyclist claimed a stage win at the 2008’s Tour of South China Sea. In 2012, he was awarded the title, “Most combative rider” at Vuelta a España’s stage 19. He finished 175th in his only entry of that competition. His other Grand Tour results included a 156th and 154th placed finish, year after year in the Giro d’Italia. Not bad for a lad who moved into cycling to avoid running on ice, “In 2002, because it was still cold for running in April, I moved to cycling and started on a home trainer.”
“I’m doing these Grand Tours to give inspiration to my compatriots. What I’ve achieved so far has had some impact back home among the cycling fans but my participation to the Tour de France is gonna be massive for China.” – Jì Chéng (计成)
The organisers of Tour de France, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) are tasked with tapping the Chinese market. Philippe Fournier de Lauriere, ASO’s Asia and Oceania Development Manager, has a grand task ahead of him. In October, he’ll take the first Tour de France China Criterium to Shanghai. A closed 3km-road circuit will host 60 of the world’s most elite cyclists. Philippe Fournier de Lauriere told Reuters, “China is still at the beginning of the journey in terms of structure and talent detection, but the long-term ambition is to have a Chinese rider crossing the line on the Champs Elysees in the yellow jersey.” An Etape China (China Stage) for thousands of enthusiasts will also be held in Changsha in September. Before this, China has only held a handful of high profile road cycling events. As part of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and the subsequent Paralympics, road cycling featured on the international stage. The 1990 Asian Games, the 2011 Summer Universiade and the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics have followed.
President of ASO, Jean-Etienne Amaury, told the South China Morning Post, “If there are Chinese teams, there will also be interest from Chinese sponsors.”
Many teams are all vying to get their cyclist to France. China has many semi-professional cycling teams. Hengxiang Cycling Team (HEN), Qinghai Tianyoude Cycling Team (TYD), Yunnan Lvshan Landscape (LSL), Holy Brother Cycling Team (HBT), Keyi Look Cycling Team (KYL), Ningxia Sports Lottery–Livall Cycling Team (NLC), Mitchelton Scott (MTS), Hainan Jilun Cycling Team (JLC), Giant Cycling Team (MSS), China Cooperation Development Cycling Team, China Continental Team of Gansu Bank (GCB), and Beijing XDS–Innova Cycling Team (XDS) are teams also based in China. Hong Kong founded Team Marco Polo Cycling–Donckers Koffie (MPC) left China, after six years, in 2011 to base themselves in Ethiopia. In 2005, they were the first professional team to be registered in China. Hong Kong have team HKSI Pro Cycling Team (HKS) based at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (香港體育學院).
Key dates of cycling in China. The UCI Asia Tour takes place over 40 events around the continent of Asia. One-day races and classic stage races are included. Around 40 teams are registered in the 2016/17 competition.
May is all about the women’s cycling events. During May, the Tour of Chongming Island International Cycling Race (started in 2007) has been held annually. In both 2016 and 2017, it formed part of the new UCI Women’s World Tour. Also taking place is the Tour of Zhoushan Island. A women’s staged cycle race. UCI category 2.2.
The Tour of Qinghai Lake [环青海湖国际公路自行车赛], an annual race happens every July, since it began in 2002. UCI Asia Tour, ranked as category 2.HC. The event has themed itself around green, civilisation and harmony. Man and nature stand side by side in the event, taking in provinces from Qinghai, Gansu to Ningxia. The 14-day event is regarded as the biggest and best cycling race on the Asian continent. Expect to see local customs, diverse cultures, distinctive geographical features, and adrenaline-fueled cycling. More than 3600km of cycling faces 23 teams and 159 riders in 2017, with the event ending on July the 30th. Organised by: The General Administration of Sport of China; The State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio Film & Television; The People’s Government of Qinghai Province Co-organizers: The People’s Government of Gansu Province; The People’s Government of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region; Chinese Cycling Association; Sports Center of China Central Television; Qinghai Sports Bureau; Gansu Sports Bureau; Ningxia Sports Bureau; All relevant government; Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences; China Green Foundation; and China Wildlife Conservation Association. So many organisers involved!
The Tour of China [环中国国际公路自行车赛] has two editions. Founded in 1995. A a 2.1 category UCI Asia Tour race. Held annually in September. A stage will arrive in Gaungdong’s Zhūhǎi (珠海) on Monday, September the 25th, 2017. Qīngyuǎn (清远市) also holds the race, the day before.
The Tour of Hainan [环海南岛国际公路自行车赛] started in 2006 and is a UCI Asia Tour category 2.HC race. Held annually in October. Also, in October, Sun Hung Kai Properties [新鴻基地產發展有限公司] Hong Kong Cyclothon has been on the calendar since 2015. A women’s open race and men’s open race feature alongside family events. As of the 19th-24th October, 2017, the new Tour of Guangxi will feature on the UCI Asia Tour. The capital Beijing had hosted the UCI World Tour: Tour of Beijing [环北京职业公路自行车赛] until 2014.
The final round of the UCI WorldTour will run alongside the Gree-Tour of Guangxi.
The Tour of Yancheng Coastal Wetlands is a men’s one-day cycle race. Held annually in November. The Tour of Fuzhou happens the same month. A one-day UCI Asia Tour race, of a 2.1 category. Also held that month is the Tour of Taihu Lake, a staged cycling race. UCI Asia Tour category 2.1.
Tour of South China Sea [环南中国海自行车赛]. Annual. Professional. One-day classic race format. Held between Macau, Hong Kong and Guangdong since 1996. Affiliated UCI Asia Tour category 2.1 race. The UCI Asia Tour cycling jersey will be worn by the holder of the highest cumulative results of previous races. An event for December.