Interview with Alain Rumpf | Tour of Beijing
The inaugural Tour of Beijing will be taking place next week. It is the UCI’s crown jewel of the globalization of cycling which has been UCI President Pat McQuaid’s priority since becoming president in 2005. Alain Rumpf is the Director of the Global Cycling Promotion who is in charge of these efforts. My mate Cam Whiting conducted this interview with Mr. Rumpf to find out more about their efforts and the Tour of Beijing.
You are the Director of Global Cycling Promotion (GCP), a company owned by the UCI. What are the GCP’s key objectives?
Basically it’s to assist with the UCI’s strategic objective of globalizing professional road cycling. Professional road cycling is a very strong sport in a number of territories – Western Europe mainly – but there’s still a huge potential that is not exploited in other parts of the world. The UCI’s mission is to develop the sport worldwide and to strengthen the Olympic status of the sport. We know that globalization, or universality as the IOC calls it, is a key criterion to develop a sport in the Olympic program and it’s a priority for the UCI to make professional cycling as global as possible. By creating a dedicated company to create, or assist the creation of, new events in new territories the UCI is taking action to reach its strategic objective.
[I did actually have a few specific (and curly) questions about the GCP, but given Alain was short on time we got straight into race specifics.]
Firstly, has the threat of team boycott over race radio regulations now completely disappeared?
Yes, all teams have confirmed their participation in accordance with UCI regulations.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but an hour ago (18:30 AET, when the interview was conducted), David Millar tweeted “UCI/GCP = SNAFU: organize Tour of Beijing, give World Tour status obliging teams to go, tell riders last minute they need visas. Thank you.” China Visas can take weeks to process. Whose responsibility was it to ensure all riders were informed they needed visas?
Well, I saw that and you may have seen that I immediately sent a tweet to David to see how we could assist him. He has a specific situation with regards to visas, but that’s a unique case. In general, teams were well aware that visas were required for the Tour of Beijing. We’ve been in regular contact with (participating teams) over the last few months. We have set up procedures with the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) in Beijing to receive visas. Obviously with a race in China, the logistics are more complicated than a race in France or in Italy. You have to apply for a visa in an embassy etc, etc – you are a traveler, you know this very well – so we have created procedures with the City of Beijing (the LOC) to facilitate this and we are assisting teams on a daily basis. In fact, that’s why I am particularly busy at the moment; I am dealing with some specific cases in teams. I can fully understand it’s a surprise for a rider who’s used to mainly racing in Europe where the borders are virtually non-existent and it’s easy to go from one country to another. But, we’re working on it and assisting wherever we can. I hope to be in touch with David very soon to advise him on how best he can sort his problem out.
The Tour of Beijing has capacity for 18 so-called ProTeams and 1 Chinese National team. What is the LOC’s deadline to finally confirm the participating teams?
Well this is happening at the moment. You have seen that Team Lampre-ISD has confirmed its participation; we have announced Vacansoleil-DCM. In fact, all teams have sent a list of (participating rider) names to the UCI in accordance with regulations. We will announce them between now and the race. And on their side, teams will also announce their riders. [Teams will arrive three days before the start]
The Event Partner bar along the bottom of the website is empty. Are there any race sponsors? Who are they and when will they be announced?
The marketing rights belong to the City of Beijing so it’s their responsibility to arrange sponsorship. At the moment there are no sponsors showing on the English site. We are just waiting for some logos from the LOC. If you go to the Chinese-language site (tourofbeijing.co), you will see a list of sponsors at the bottom. There’s a car company, there’s a leisure clothing company and I think there’s also an energy drink company at the moment. [note: there are several automotive sponsors, including Mercedes-Benz and also a bicycle sponsor ‘UCC’ which has significant market share in China]
Has it been a challenge to engage local sponsors when compared to a similar event in Europe? Do local sponsors understand the significance of the Tour of Beijing and the potential benefits?
Well, I can’t comment on the specifics because it’s the responsibility of the LOC. Certainly, it’s more challenging to promote a race and attract sponsors (in China) because they don’t know about cycling, it’s the first edition, there are no major Chinese riders at the moment, etc. However, it’s good to see in these conditions they (the LOC) have still been able to find (many sponsors) until now.
Is it an objective, after the four-year agreement between the GCP and Tour of Beijing ends, to sell the event or will the GCP continue its ownership so long as the event is profitable?
Well, first of all we haven’t done the first edition yet so it’s probably a little early to speak about the future. At the moment, there is no plan to sell the event. I think we have a strong partnership with the City of Beijing and a set of rights and obligations that I think work well, so we don’t have plans to change that in the future I think.
You studied political science at the University of Lausanne. In a political sense, how does organizing a race in China compare to organizing a race, for example, in Australia or another western country?
(laughs) Well, that was a long time ago! No, I mean, it’s very interesting and certainly very different. During my last visit to Beijing in August, I had lunch with the president of the Chinese Cycling Association. He made a very interesting statement that we (GCP) are going to face three types of differences. The first one is cultural; this difference creates basic communicational misunderstanding etc, etc. The second is political; the political systems are totally different. You know, the way cities, regions and central governments are organized in Western society when compared to China. We are faced with this on a daily basis. Fortunately, in my team, we have Chinese people who understand both systems, the way the hierarchy is organized, the decision-making process. The third difference is what the President called “technical” difference; the (lack of technical) expertise. We are used to working with organizers who know the sport, are experienced in the sport, and there’s no such experience at the moment in China. That’s the reason we are bringing in ASO (Amaury Sports Organization, owner of the Tour de France) to fill the gap in technical knowledge. I’m very confident we will be able to transfer knowledge to China very quickly and they will become very good organizers themselves.
In order to compete in a race on the UCI World Calendar, riders of UCI ProTeams and UCI Continental Professional teams must have submitted accurate whereabouts information and have been subjected to at least three blood parameter tests collected in accordance with the UCI biological passport protocols. The three tests must have been collected over a minimum period of six weeks. Will the Chinese National team be subject to these exact conditions?
As you pointed out, this requirement is for UCI ProTeams and Professional Continental teams, not for other riders. Having said that, the UCI has a very comprehensive program so all the riders get tested on a regular basis. It is the same situation as the Tour of Poland and the Tour Down Under in fact so, yes; the riders in the Chinese National Team are tested on a regular basis. However, they are not part of the UCI biological passport program.
You mentioned Poland and Australia. Do you think the intent from the Chinese Cycling Association is to have the same level of testing on their athletes as we do in Australia? How do local protocols compare with other established cycling nations?
Well, that’s not exactly for me to comment, as this is the UCI’s responsibility. I’m just commenting as the race organizer. Having said that, all athletes competing at international level are submitted to UCI regulations. I think the UCI has a very comprehensive anti-doping program, so I’m not concerned about it.
Is there any concern from either the LOC or GCP that the Chinese National team is going to – as we say in Australia – get smashed by the ProTeams, therefore creating an embarrassing situation for Chinese officials? After all, we know that “saving face” is very important to Chinese people. Is there a concern about the difference in quality?
It’s true. At the moment on the international scene the China team is not very high in the international hierarchy, but this is mostly due to their lack of international experience! There’s a lot of activity at the national level. You may know the most important event for Chinese athletes is the China Games (note: National Games of the People’s Republic of China, held every four years). Different provinces all compete against one another, so there’s a lot of competition at the national level. Many (expat) professional riders are also racing in China, so the level is quite good, I think. To answer your question, if the China Cycling Association has decided to enter a team in the Tour of Beijing, it is because they are confident they will be able to keep up with the other teams. For that reason, we are confident for the first year the Chinese National Team will compete at a reasonably high level. We know it’s not going to be easy for them, which is why together we are organizing training camps and coaching. Gradually, Chinese athletes can compete well internationally and integrate to international teams. The Tour of Beijing is not just a race; we really want it to be a platform that will benefit everybody. Not only for sponsors and teams but also for Chinese cycling.
There are three riders from the Chinese National team currently training at the World Cycling Centre, in Aigle, Switzerland. How are they finding their stay in Switzerland?
They’re doing well. I see them on a daily basis because my office is at the WCC where they train. They are doing a lot of miles and they have experienced international coaches looking after them, so of course it’s going to be beneficial for them. And that’s just the start of this cooperation; the WCC will assist the Chinese Cycling Association to develop Chinese athletes, coaches, officials and commissaires over the next four years.
Europe, Canada, Australia and now Asia are home to WorldTour races. Where to next?
We are actively, you know, working to identify cities that could host new UCI WorldTour events. We are also monitoring existing races to see if they can be upgraded to WorldTour level. It is more the UCI’s responsibility to set up the UCI calendar. I think, in a recent interview, Pat McQuaid mentioned countries like Brazil, India and Russia. These are definitely countries where we would like to develop new projects.
Because the strategy is to globalize cycling, does that mean GCP will only be targeting races in emerging countries, and not developed countries like the UCI. For example, the USA does not currently have a World Tour event.
No, I don’t think it is only emerging countries. It could be any region in the world where there is potential for the whole sport; I think the US is a key territory. If a project can be developed in this country, I’m sure the UCI will look at it with a positive eye.
So, if there was an interesting opportunity in the USA, would the GCP itself look to own a race, or are you talking about assisting an existing race like the Tour of California to become a WorldTour event.
It could be both. We are not just stuck on one business model, I think different business models are possible as long as the UCI and GCP’s goals are achieved; that is, to support projects which benefit the whole cycling family and its stakeholders.
Did you have the possibility yourself to ride in China?
Unfortunately not, because I’ve been very busy every time I’ve been in China. I would love to do that one day.
Well I can recommend some good bunch rides to you.
Let’s talk about it when we meet in Beijing then!
Alain Rumpf, thanks for your time.
— Tour of Beijing Race Details —
Official website: www.tourofbeijing.net
Stage One – Wednesday 5th October ?Individual Time Trial – 11.3km – Bird’s Nest – Water Cube via Olympic Park circuit [No TT bikes allowed]
Stage Two – Thursday 6th October ?133.5km – Bird’s Nest to Men Tou Gou via North Gate of Summer Palace
Stage Three – Friday 7th October ?162km – Men Tou Gou to Yong Ning Town via Thirteen Ming Tombs Reservoir
Stage Four – Saturday 8th October ?189.5km – Yanquin Gui Chuan Square to Shunyi Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Centre via Great Wall
Stage Five – Sunday 9th October ?118km – Tian An Men Square to Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium
Teams logistics will be made simpler by a ban on time trial bikes for the stage 1 test, like in the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman.
Stages 2, 4 and 5 are more or less circuit races for sprinters
Stage 3 from Men Tau Gau to Yong Ning contains three category 1 and one category 2 climbs.