For teams arriving into Taipei from last week’s Le Tour de Langkawi, the Tour de Taiwan is sure to please – at least topographically speaking. With a more challenging profile than its Malaysian counterpart, sprinters will have a much harder time dominating stages. The cherry on top for the 2012 edition is an upgraded (2.1) ranking from the UCI.
Taiwan’s only UCI-registered stage race is a well-established event in the UCI Asia Tour. In 1987, Giant Manufacturing Co Ltd’s Chairman, King Liu, was then President of the Chinese Taipei Cycling Association. Liu had determined that a professional road cycling race should be held in Taiwan to boost the nation’s image as a tourism and cycling destination; hence the Tour de Taiwan was born. In that same year, Taipei Cycle show – one of the world’s largest bicycle exhibitions – was also inaugurated. After 17 years of independent scheduling, the two events were brought together to ensure maximum leverage in terms of coverage and attendance. Both events are celebrating 25th anniversaries this year.
From 10-16 March, the parcours tracks the west coast of Taiwan; from Taipei in the north, to Kaohsiung in the south. Amongst the 17 participating professional teams will be ProTeam squad Saxo Bank, and last week’s winning Tour de Langkawi team, Androni Giocattoli, from Italy. Four national road cycling teams – including Taiwan’s, naturally – will also be competing. Just over half of the 105 cyclists (each of the 21 teams may have a maximum of five riders) are from nations in the Asian Cycling Confederation.
Two former winners will feature in the 2012 edition of Tour de Taiwan; 2003 champion Mizbani Ghader (riding for Iran’s Tabriz Petrochemical Team) and last year’s victor David McCann (riding for Taiwan’s RTS Racing Team). Kam Po Wong, the current Asian Road Cycling Champion, will also line up with his Hong Kong national team.
There are no time trials included during the week-long race; nor are any stages longer than 150 kilometres. It won’t be a complete cakewalk though, as every day of racing – with the exception of the first – features two or three categorised climbs until the race concludes in Kaohsiung after covering 870 kilometres. For riders tuned into “Euro time”, the early starts may also be painful; the first stage will be a 52km circuit race, starting outside the Taipei City Hall at 08:30 in the morning.
From an industry perspective, quite a few of Taipei Cycle Show’s high-profile exhibitors are sponsoring this year’s Tour de Taiwan. Given the race’s proximity to the exhibition, this affords these sponsors an opportunity to leverage their investment through team rider appearances at Taipei Cycle, as well as VIP events during the race.
Giant Bicycles – Taiwan’s largest bicycle manufacturer – is equipment sponsor to Australia’s Drapac Cycling team whilst Fuji – a brand manufactured by Ideal, Taiwan’s third-largest bicycle manufacturer – provides the same support to China’s Champion System team. Both brands admit that such a marketing investment cannot always be measured in key metric terms, but state the importance of being aligned to professional cycling.
“We sponsor big teams like (ProTeam) Rabobank, but we are supporting a lot of local events and smaller teams too.” explained Giant’s CEO Tony Lo. “It is more about the grassroots, to create interest amongst the younger riders. We don’t really count whether or not it will affect our sales”
When asked for a financial comparison, Giant’s Global Marketing Specialist, Jones Ho, disclosed Drapac’s equipment budget from Giant amounted to four frames per rider per year. For comparison, Rabobank’s equipment budget was 300 frames per year, not including prototypes. Aside from these individual team budgets, Jones noted Giant is also a partner sponsor of the Tour de Taiwan – an investment worth NTD500,000 (USD16,950).
Components manufacturers KMC and Marwi are also involved in the race; not only as equipment suppliers to several teams, but as partner sponsors too. The investment to have their name associated with the Tour de Taiwan is “around NTD300,000” (USD10,200) according to Marwi’s Managing Director, James Huang.
ESPN and Eurosport will be broadcasting live stages and daily highlights on television though, no doubt, the same coverage will also find its way online. One final word: keep an eye out for Champion System sprinter, Steven Wong. The former BMX racing star – with Belgian and Hong Kong lineage – made the switch to road cycling last year. On paper, Wong’s bike handling skills and explosive power make him an exciting future prospect for bunch gallops.