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The hot rumor in 2016 was that Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin was going to buy the Tour de France. And then it was the Giro d’Italia. In fact, sources confirmed he made plays for both properties, but was discretely told no thanks.
So instead of buying an existing property, China’s richest man is creating his own race. While details are yet to be officially confirmed, reports in the Chinese media and sources tell VeloNews that a one-week WorldTour-level stage race, operated by Wang’s sports event company Wanda Sports, could be included on the international calendar as soon as next season.
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Cycling Weekly also reported the news Wednesday morning, but the UCI issued a denial that a deal is in place.
“China offers tremendous potential for the development of our sport,” the UCI said Wednesday in a press statement. “But at this stage, there isn’t any agreement with Wanda Sports.”
Officials from Wanda Sports would not comment when contacted by VeloNews on Tuesday.
According to reports last week in the Chinese media, a six-day stage race in southern China’s Guangxi region could be added to the men’s WorldTour race lineup for February. A women’s one-day race is also reportedly part of the plan, along with six new Ironman events in China for 2017. The nation might even host the UCI’s annual Cycling Gala.
Wang’s sports subsidiary Wanda Sports has already made a big push into sports events and broadcasting, and has been sniffing around elite men’s road cycling since last year.
Wang is one of the world’s richest men, and he made billions in the booming Chinese real estate and shopping center markets over the past three decades as part of his Dalian Wanda Group. He’s since begun diversifying his holdings, expanding into the entertainment industry (his Dalian Wanda group bought Dick Clark Productions last week for $1 billion) and endurance sports.
Wanda bought Infront Sports & Media in 2015 for $1 billion as well as the World Triathlon Corporation, buying out its Ironman triathlon series for $650 million last summer. It also bought the Cape Epic mountain bike event as part of its expanding interest in sports events. It also owns part of the part of the Tour de Suisse (and since penned a TV deal with Velon) and a marathon road cycling series called Velothon. In short, Wang is already a major player poised to get even bigger.
The 62-year-old’s interest in cycling comes as the sport continues to struggle with sponsorship backing and a consistent business model to support top-level elite men’s road racing. China is considered cycling’s new frontier, and efforts to break into the market seem to be paying off. In an unrelated move, Chinese backers will sponsor the former Lampre – Merida WorldTour team next season.
The UCI-backed Tour of Beijing ended following the arrival of UCI president Brian Cookson in 2014, but an announcement from the cycling federation Wednesday outlining new rules for the 2017 WorldTour did not mention a new Chinese stage race for the 2017 calendar. One source told VeloNews, however, an announcement is imminent.