Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tour of Beijing establishes professional cycling in China.


Not long ago, the roads in and around Beijing were clogged by bicycles. Last week, however, the cars, trucks and buses that are the city’s new source of congestion were cleared away to make room for cyclists. But cyclists of an elite variety.
The five-stage Tour of Beijing, which ends Sunday, is the first major attempt by professional cycling to establish itself in China. It is also the first attempt by the International Cycling Union to act as a race organizer as well as the sport’s governing body. That dual role almost crippled the race before it started and made it the most contentious event on this year’s calendar.
The cycling union, which is generally known as the U.C.I., its French initials, has argued that it must become an organizer as well as an overseer if pro cycling is going to grow beyond its traditional base in Europe.
To that end, it created a separate corporation, Global Cycling Promotion, to run races and hired the Amaury Sport Organization, the owner of the Tour de France, to run its show in China.
U.C.I. officials then included the Tour of Beijing in the U.C.I. WorldTour circuit, a series that is generally reserved for more venerable events like the Tour de France. Under WorldTour rules, the sport’s top teams are obliged to enter every WorldTour race.
Many members of the cycling community say that chain of events has created a conflict of interest for the U.C.I.
The sport’s largest source of revenue, television rights, goes entirely to organizers, while teams are forced to rely on an often ephemeral sponsorship for the cash that pays riders’ salaries and their associated costs. The U.C.I.’s transformation into an organizer, and its alliance with the sport’s most powerful organizer, seems to leave little obvious room for rebalancing that arrangement.
Those concerns became mired in a long-running battle over the U.C.I.’s plans to ban teams from using radios to give riders instructions during races. This spring, the WorldTour teams announced that they would boycott of the Tour of Beijing because it was the only race staged by the U.C.I.
In the end, an agreement to put off the radio issue saved the Tour of Beijing. Aside from Beijing’s notorious smog, the race’s organization — aided by the manpower and resources of the Chinese government and military — was praised by many riders.
But the early results from the Tour of Beijing underscored the sport’s unresolved issues. The overall leader after the first three stages, Tony Martin, rides for the HTC-Highroad team, which is based in the United States. But not for much longer. Unable to find a sponsor for 2012, that team is folding at the end of the season.
Tony Martin below

Story by Ian Aurten
New York Times - http://www.nytimes.com/

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