(By CHAN KIN-WA in Shanghai)
Authorities from China and Hong Kong have set their sights on establishing a competitive tour covering all southeast coastal provinces of China that will one day become an Asian version of the Tour de France.
Announcing the inaugural Tour of Hong Kong-Shanghai, Li Xin, vice-president of the China Cycling Association, said their ultimate goal would be having a tour from the Yangtze Delta of Shanghai to the Pearl River Delta of Hong Kong through provinces along the southeast coast of China.
"We hope the tour will grow from strength to strength. Our target is to make it a super race classification in five years," said Li. "Coastal provinces such as Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi will be reached by the tour and hopefully it will become an Asian version of the Tour de France in future."
The inaugural tour has a budget of six million yuan and offers prize money of $300,000.
A total of 18 teams will compete in the inaugural event with teams from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Qatar racing against world-class cyclists from Australia, Belgium, France, the United States and other countries.
Hong Kong is to send its strongest team headed by 2005 Tour of South China Sea champion Wu Kin-sun. Wu, 21, will be the captain as compatriot Wong Kam-po will race for his French team.
The tour, which starts in Shanghai on May 3 and finishes in Hong Kong on May 7, comprises four stages. The first race, over 120km, will start on Nanjing West Road in the heart of Shanghai before moving to Kunshan, the most affluent new city near Shanghai on May 4 for the second race.
The Hong Kong leg will start on May 6 with a criterium race outside the AsiaWorld-Expo, Hong Kong's largest exhibition and events complex located at the Hong Kong International Airport in Chek Lap Kok. The tour finishes with another criterium race around roads of Sha Tin town centre.
"We have had some problems with the venue at the airport before, but with joint efforts from all parties concerned, including the police and the Airport Authority, we have resolved it," said Fredrick Chan Chun-hung, general secretary of the Hong Kong Cycling Association.