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The roar is deafening. Hundreds of young men and women line the race route, cheering, chanting and shaking plastic clappers with great vigour. The volume only increases as several riders roll slowly by, warming up near the start/finish line.
On the PA, the race’s English-language commentator tag-teams with his Mandarin-speaking counterpart, the pair setting the stage for the day ahead. They talk of how excited the riders are to be here, how thrilling the racing is going to be. Local dancers take to the road before the race, their performance just one of the many cultural demonstrations we’ll see over the next week.
It’s the opening day of the first-ever Tour of Guangxi, a controversial new WorldTour race held in the south of China. There’s a real sense of anticipation and excitement in the coastal city of Beihai as the riders prepare themselves for stage 1. But that excitement is only part of the story — there’s a lot more to this race than meets the eye.
It’s hard not to be inspired by the excitement of the crowds. All dressed in identical blue shirts and white hats, they’re here to welcome some of the world’s best riders, and to celebrate the opening of a brand new bike race. But their chanting, stirring at first, soon takes on a slightly different hue.
Group leaders prowl the space between the crowd and the race route, whipping their charges into a frenzy and ensuring they stay on message. A local gentleman translates for me, explaining that the crowds are chanting “We love China, we love Beihai.”
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