China and Russia are in line to host major cycling tours as part of the sport's plans to set up a global racing series. International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid said on Tuesday that he began speaking with Russian and Chinese authorities earlier this year and that both races could be ready by 2009. The moves come amid a continuing power struggle between the UCI and ASO, the organizers of the Tour de France. The UCI is trying to expand beyond the sport's traditional European base with new events that could possibly rival the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Spanish Vuelta.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is behind his country's bid, which aims to raise the profile of the Black Sea resort of Sochi and surrounding areas hosting the Winter Olympics in 2014. "The approach came from Vladimir Putin himself," said McQuaid. "The government is interested in organizing a major cycling race in Russia, more specifically in the Sochi area. The region is not very well known, but they want it to be known." McQuaid met with Russian sports authorities, the government and sponsors in Moscow in June. Another meeting will be held soon for discussions on funding, he said.
Putin's presence and personal lobbying efforts were crucial in Sochi's winning bid for the 2014 Games. He has since taken a very close interest in planning for the Olympics and told organizers last month that venues must be ready with plenty of time to spare. "The government sees cycling as one of the best ways to promote the beauty of the Sochi area ahead of the Olympics," McQuaid said. The cycling chief said both the Russian and Chinese races would be part of the elite ProTour calendar.
McQuaid said he met with Chinese officials in April and would be returning next week to Beijing, the host city of next year's Summer Olympics.
"China in interested in a major tour as a legacy for the Olympic Games," he said.
McQuaid said one of his objectives as UCI's president has been to "take the sport outside of its traditional roots in Europe." "We will create a global tour," he said. "It's important for our sponsors to go into these new markets. Cycling needs to offer those markets."
McQuaid added that the UCI would take steps to ensure that the traditions of the sport, born in Europe, are preserved.