de France sets wheels in motion for Chinese revolution
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[March 24, 2017]
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Selling the world's
most famous cycle race to a country where an estimated 450 million
people own a bike hardly sounds like a revolutionary concept.
Yet for vast swathes of China's population, the appeal of the Tour
de France remains as far-removed from their everyday lives as car
ownership was only a few decades ago.
Things might be about to change though with Tour organizers Amaury
Sport Organisation (ASO) targeting the Chinese market in the ongoing
globalization of the fabled three-week event.
Philippe Fournier de Lauriere, ASO's Asia and Oceania Development
Manager, is the man tasked with promoting professional cycle racing
in a nation whose only ever Tour de France entrant, Ji Cheng,
finished last in 2014.
This week ASO announced the first Tour de France China Criterium
will take place in October with 60 of the world's top riders racing
around a 3km closed road circuit in Shanghai.
Hardly comparable to the real Tour, but a tasty appetizer aimed at
hooking millions of new Chinese cycling fans - with all the
commercial spin-offs that could entail.
"Our studies show that Chinese people have heard of the Tour de
France, it's not that strange, but don't really have any knowledge
about what it actually is," De Lauriere told Reuters by telephone
"They don't know how long it lasts, who are the big stars, how it
works, so we want to bring this spirit to China.
"It's a huge market but also one that is difficult to penetrate.
Bringing Tour de France style events to China is crucial because we
want to share the passion."
China's ever-expanding middle class means cars have replaced the
bicycle for many - but an increase in wealth and leisure time means
the idea of cycling for sport is catching on.
"Sport generally is booming. Not just for media consumption but also
as a practice," de Laurier said. "The goal is to accelerate the
growth of cycling in China."
[to top of second column]
Giant-Shimano team rider Ji Cheng of China leads the pack of riders
during the 185.5-km 12th stage of the Tour de France cycling race
between Bourg-en-Bresse and Saint-Etienne, France, July 17, 2014.
REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen/File Photo
Crowds of 200,000 have watched ASO-organized
Criterium events in Saitama, Japan since 2013 and it is hoped
similar numbers will watch in Shanghai.
No major cycling races are currently staged in China and there are
no professional road teams, although the country has already
provided some world champions in track disciplines.
Huge amounts of money are being pumped into soccer as Chinese clubs
sign big-name players and while a similar level of interest in
professional cycling is still years away, De Lauriere believes the
wheels are in motion.
He also thinks the next time a Chinese rider competes in the Tour,
they will not be just making up the numbers.
"It's not always easy to apply the recipe we have in the west but
it's very exciting opportunity," he said.
"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
(Reporting by Martyn, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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