The Vanishing Tour of Hangzhou

Goodbye the Tour of Hangzhou. The Chinese race was announced as a new race on the 2012 UCI calendar only to get cancelled less than seven weeks before the inaugural edition was set to start.

All races can have last minute hiccups but this event was a special one as it’s run by the UCI and got fast-tracked for World Tour status just a few weeks ago. Riders might celebrate being able to stop work earlier than planned but it highlights questions about the UCI’s continued conflict of interest as a governing body and an events promoter.

The Background
The UCI is mandated as a non-profit governing body and enjoys specific tax perks for itself as a body but also for its staff in Switzerland. In order to maintain this status but make money – yes – it created Global Cycling Promotions (GCP), a wholly-owned subsidiary company run as a private business with senior UCI officials as its directors.

Things got more controversial when it was discovered that the €622,000 seed capital used to start the business came in the form of a “loan” from the UCI Pro Tour Reserve Fund, a pot of money essentially funded by teams in the World Tour* and several team managers were livid to find “their money” being used this way, especially as any profits were going to the UCI and not back to the teams. Normally this “related party” activity would attract extra scrutiny and disclosure as the UCI is using its money to support a linked company but nobody’s seen the loan contract, it could be an IOU written on a Post-It note.

Conflict of Interest
GCP is sports events business that aims to make a profit by charging host cities a fee for staging a race. You can probably spot the conflict of interest here, a governing body that is supposed to sit above a calendar of select events is suddenly trying to make money here, putting itself and its proprietary races in opposition to other organisers and events. This isn’t an academic concern, see below.

The Timeline
The race came out of nowhere. It was first mentioned in February this year as a new addition to the calendar, subject to it getting a World Tour licence. In other words so long as the UCI could award itself a licence, normally not a problem since the UCI owns the rulebook and knows what tasks need to be done to meet the standards required. By March the UCI President Pat McQuaid signed an agreement with the Hangzhou authorities to run the race for several years although curiously the local media reported the delegation leader was Hein Verbruggen, the former UCI President and another report didn’t even mention McQuaid. By June the UCI awarded the race a four year licence.

An artist’s impression of the Tour of Beijing

Now this has all unravelled and the event is cancelled with hopes it will appear in 2013. It’s all a shame, a lot of work went into planning the race and having promised a fanfare, the end of season party is cancelled. There’s no detail on why this happened. Last year’s Tour of Beijing was boring and unpleasant with the air pollution but Hangzhou looks very different with its mountains, tea plantations and lakes.

Amusingly the UCI’s press release says “this decision was made by the UCI together with all the implicated parties – in particular GCP…” which conjures up imagines of UCI staff consulting themselves. Still, we can salute the UCI for the courage in pulling the plug rather than sending the peloton to a race that was unfit for the World Tour.

All this raises the obvious question: was the UCI too quick to approve this race? Motivated to make money, it seems the licence was awarded but things were not guaranteed in place. This is highly unusual but some age-old European races have vanished from the calendar this year. The difference is races like the Giro di Sardegna or Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda were not being billed as big events. How did the race get approval in June only to get scrapped weeks later? And should races face a test year where they are run for the first time, just as London did one year before the Olympics?

Herald Sun Tour
The Tour Down Under isn’t the only race in Australia. There are many events but the Herald Sun Tour is arguably the country’s second biggest race with an unbroken history going back to 1952, except for 2010 when the Worlds in Geelong saw the event on hold for one year.

The race organisers had decided to move the race to February and Cycling Australia agreed but the UCI blocked this, causing frustration for USM Events, the race organiser and a subsidiary of WTC, the business behind the Ironman triathlons. The Herald Sun Tour stuck to its slot in October in agreement with the UCI… only to find the UCI suddenly announcing its was going to run its own race at the same time, forcing the Australian race to move. USM and its parent company WTC were not happy.

In a way we’re back to where we were at the start of the year: the Tour of Hangzhou doesn’t exist. Tired riders will celebrate but it leaves questions for the UCI. The race got a billing, status and licence that was ahead of itself. Along the way, the Herald Sun Tour took a hit and the apparent involvement of Hein Verbruggen is worth noting. But if the race isn’t ready, so be it.

The plan to create new races as a money-spinner for the UCI is going to take time but this is a setback. None of this is a big deal but it’s worth mentioning as a topic to watch, especially given the tricky conflict of interest has already annoyed Australians and the mission creep to earn money instead of govern is risky.

Next month will see the latest set of UCI financial accounts published and we should discover more about GCP.

* Confusingly Pro Tour, World Tour, Pro Team are all the same thing: the top 18 teams and the calendar of races to which these teams get automatic invitations. It was called the Pro Tour, is now the World Tour and teams are UCI Pro Teams.

20 thoughts on “The Vanishing Tour of Hangzhou”

  1. May be McQuaid and Verbruggen wanted to focus their energy on the upcoming case by USADA and WADA as UCI’s current stance indicates that it will back Lance. I sincerely hope that this saga ends up cleaning the administrative weed from the sport.

  2. In the dictionary, when you look up the phrase “conflict of interest” there should be pictures of the UCI’s ” Mad Hatter” and “Mr. Mars”. UCI needs a top to bottom house-cleaning! They’re starting to make FIFA look good in comparison.

  3. Hey Mr Inrng, very much appreciate your insights into cycling.

    On the back of this article I shot off a note to USM asking about the Sun Tour, because, yes, it is fantastic. It was sensational being there last year for stage 4 up Arthur’s Seat – seeing those guys smash it so much faster than any of us ever could.

    Here’s USM’s response:

    Hi Ben

    This event is obviously still work in progress with final details being announced hopefully next week, but I can tell you the date of the event.
    This event will be held in conjunction with the Bay Cycling Classic.
    Herald Sun Tour
    • Prologue, Thursday 3rd January Williamstown
    • Stage 1, Friday 4th January Melbourne (Sunbury) to Bendigo
    • Stage 2, Saturday 5th January Mitchelton Winery (Nagambie) to Healesville
    • Stage 3, Sunday 6th January Cape Schanck to Arthurs Seat

    Stay tuned for further information on the website.

    Robynne Britt
    Event Assistant
    PO Box 1345, Noosa Heads, QLD 4567
    P: +61.7.5449. 0711 | F: +61.7.5449.0828 |

  4. It’s not the only area where UCI has sought to make money from events, look at the world masters sportive calendar, the final was in Sth Africa the other week. The tender docs were eye opening.

    • Well, World Championships are one area where a Worldwide Governing Body should have some involvement and arguably deserve a piece of the action (licensing rights for 3rd party use of their name in the least).

      However the way the UCI has tried to manage the Cyclosportif and Gran Fondo sector is almost as farcical as how they run the professional race sector.

  5. The date confusion and manipulation are worrying signs. Though the UCI may have a president, isn’t it made up of constituent members? Surely these must kick up a fuss and take issue with things like changing calendars mid-way through the season. It seems a very amateurish thing to be doing. Also there needs to be a balance between promoting new and nurturing the old. I’m talking of events which have a history and a place in the psyche of cycling, that are dropping off the calendar because of lack of support, whereas now new races rise out of the blue, fully promoted (but have just as much chance of crashing and burning as shown above). I guess the difference is the new races pay, whereas the old ones don’t owe anything!!! So there’s your conflict of interest, really… I believe spreading the bible of cycling is all good and well, but think organically, not revolutionary. The UCI must think long and hard about what it leaves behind (no pun intended Lombardia..).

    • Good point! Where is the Board? If there is one, why are they not on top of things? This whole situation stinks of at least the appearance of corruption. Somebody has to take charge, and responsibility in most organizations ultimately falls to the Board of Directors.

  6. At what point do the national governing bodies decide the UCI leadership have become a detractor?
    Who calls for a vote of no-confidence?
    Is there a process for impeachment?
    Why have they waited for so long?
    Does an org-chart of the UCI exist?
    How much of it is elected and how far down do they go?

  7. The whole story stinks more than a bit, if the story is as you tell it, and I have no reason at all to believe it’s otherwise.
    Also, I don’t understand how the UCI, alone, decides on the World Tour calendar: it should be done in accordance with other race organisers, including organisers of non-World Tour races.

  8. I guess after their failed attempts to bring the ASO into (their) line – Hein and Pat have decided to take them on at their own game? Perhaps not on a level playing field, obviously; as the GCP will have carte blanche to proceed as it fancies and ‘its’ riders are seemingly highly unlikely to be returning any non-negative tests in GCP-run events.

    Sepp Blatter clearly thought he had most angles stitched up when it came to making $$ out of football? Hein and Pat clearly make him look like a meddling amateur – I’m sure they’re only disappointed that the tv revenues are so much lower and you struggle to charge spectators at the events…

  9. Re Hangzhou – You’re right in that it’s a pleasant city with more hills and better air than Beijing, but don’t expect air of European quality, and neither does Hangzhou enjoy the range of notable places that interest a TV audience on a flat sprint stage as the peloton whizzes by. Perhaps the sport would be better served by having a revolving Tour of China, held in a different location each year, so that interest remains fresh and cycling gets introduced to different localities? I guess logistics are an issue, but it would be a fresh way of organising races, and China has such a wealth of different landscapes that a different race each year is guaranteed.

    • I like the idea, a good way to show the country to outsiders. On a smaller scale Oman has done this quite well with its tour. But note this particular race was a deal with the local government and as central as power can be in Beijing, much depends on the local government and regions.

      • This is true, particularly in China, as provincelevel government is very powerful within the system (eachprovince is about as powerful as a government ministry). Also, if they can’t get Hangzhou ready for the event after saying for six months that it will, there’s no guarantee that a different pl;ace each year would be able to.

  10. The UCI thinks the best strategy to grow the sport is by creating a sort of Formula One or Moto GP global series. Meanwhile, historic european races are falling by the wayside. Shameful.

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