It has been such an exciting month for pro cycling enthusiasts in Asia. The 2012 Tour de Korea is the third of four UCI2.2 stage races so far in April and, if initial presentation and prize money is an indicator, it may later prove to be the leader in terms of quality.
Cycling is a relatively big deal in the Republic of Korea; especially in the capital city of Seoul, where the race will end on day one. Almost a quarter of the nation’s 48 million people call Seoul home, so it’s not uncommon to see hundreds of early-risers cycling alongside the mighty Han river – which enters Seoul from the East China Sea on a roughly north-east course – thanks to the excellent walking and cycling paths tracking both north and south sides. Anecdotally, 90% of the adult bicycles purchased in South Korea are mountainbikes, but road bikes are gaining traction swiftly.
Korea’s Sports Promotion Foundation, the government-owned national sports promotion/performance body established in 1989, is organizing the race (in its eleventh year) and will also be represented by its own UCI Continental team, KSPO. 2012 will mark ten years since KSPO (the organization) opened a national cycling training center and almost thirty years since it inaugurated the national cycling federation (which itself was formed in 1945, and later ratified by the UCI in 1947).
Teams arriving into Seoul Incheon airport from the recent Tour de Filipinas should not need to worry about amenities or connectivity during their stay. Globally, South Korea is ranked first in internet speed and mobile broadband penetration, so finding a good wifi spot shouldn’t be a problem for bored riders. Almost half of South Korea’s population reportedly has smartphones. Technology aside, South Korea is overall a clean, modern, and advanced nation with impressive infrastructure and great food. However, riders with delicate tummies may want to go easy on the kimchi.
Tour de Korea comes at the end of South Korea’s spring, so daytime temperatures will range anywhere between 15-25°C whilst, overnight, single digits are likely.
As obvious as it may sound, the race’s level of difficulty will depend entirely on how hard the 21 teams want to make this UCI2.2-ranked event. Besides stages four and seven, which contain the only hill climbs exceeding 500 meters, all other race days appear biased to a bunch sprint. However, looks can be deceiving so early breaks will need to be intelligently managed by teams in overall contention as the race progresses.
Teams must have a minimum of four, and maximum of six, riders and four officials. Of the 121 riders, 60 are from Asian nations, 30 are from European nations, 14 from The Americas, 1 from Africa and 16 from Oceania.
Not one but three UCI Professional Continental squads have accepted invitations to the 2012 Tour de Korea, including the 2011 overall team champion, Team Type 1 – Sanofi. Champion System and Rusvelo round out the trio of second-division outfits. Representing four continents, fifteen UCI Continental teams*, and three national teams, will add aural and visual brightness to the multi-cultural peloton.
On an individual level, last year’s winner, Choi Ki Ho, will again be lining up as part of the six-man Hong Kong National Team, which also includes the effervescent Wong Kam Po; current Asian Road Cycling Champion. The 2011 points jersey winner, Paul Odlin (New Zealand), also flew out from Christchurch International Airport with his Subway Cycling Team today.
*Iran’s Tabriz Petrochemical Team withdrew from Tour de Korea last week; this comes only one week after their similarly-late withdrawal from Tour de Filipinas. Additionally, as of 21.04.2012, the teams listing on the official Tour de Korea website had not been updated. Both tables above and below are based on the riders actually present in Seoul.
Four jerseys will be awarded at the conclusion of each stage:
Leader of General Classification – Yellow
Leader of Points Classification – Blue
Leader of King of the Mountains (KOM) Classification – Polka Dot
Leader of Young Rider Classification – White
This year’s overall purse of KRW250,000,000 (USD220,000) is a 20% increase over the 2011 edition. The winner of the yellow jersey will pocket USD17,500, as will the overall winning team. Stage winners will walk away happy, too. Here’s the breakdown:
Overall winner (individual) = KRW20,000,000 (USD17,500)
Overall team = KRW20,000,000 (USD17,500)
Overall team (Asian) = KRW5,000,000 (USD4,375)
Overall KOM = KRW6,000,000 (USD5,250)
Overall Points = KRW6,000,000 (USD5,250)
Overall Young Rider = KRW4,000,000 (USD3,500)
Stage winner = KRW4,000,000 (USD3,500)
Separate to the professional, UCI-sanctioned, Tour de Korea is a “special” Tour de Korea for riders from domestic and foreign cycling clubs. Essentially, enthusiasts will race along a route similar to that ridden by the elite riders but, in spite of finishing in the same town each day, they will start closer to the finish, cutting down the maximum stage distance to 119.5km. “Pre-tests” have been taking place over the last several weeks, with registration closing earlier this month. Each of the 23 registered teams may have up to 20 riders, with six to eight riders selected for each stage – almost like a very long relay race. Apart from competing in their own Tour de Korea, each “special” team and rider is listed on their very own part of the official website. Cool!
Speaking of websites, the official Tour de Korea website promises to be one of the most informative and user-friendly examples specifically created for a UCI-sanctioned race. Creating amazing websites is almost a national sport in South Korea but, in the case of TdK’s site, browser functionality has been an issue. The organizer has assured Cycling iQ that the technical bugs which have stymied many popular browsers (Safari, Firefox, Chrome) should be ironed out by now. On a positive note, the English version of the website has behaved itself today.
In addition to the website, Tour de Korea is also on Facebook and Twitter. For the time being, both of these are in Korean. Cycling iQ has been engaged as official race reporter, so I’ll be flying out to Seoul tomorrow. Once on my first priorities is to get access to the official Twitter and Facebook accounts so English updates can be posted throughout the race. If that fails – and I’m hopeful it won’t – live updates will be made throughout the race on the Cycling iQ Twitter feed. Time to start packing.
STAGES AND PROFILES
Stage 1 | Incheon – Seoul 55.2km
Sunday, 22 April 2012
Stage 2 | Buyeo – Gwangju, 200.3km
Monday, 23 April 2012
Stage 3 | Gwangju – Yeosu, 139.1km
Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Stage 4 | Yeosu – Geochang, 179.9km
Wednesday, 25 April 2012
Stage 5 | Geochang – Gumi 153.1km
Thursday, 26 April 2012
Stage 6 | Gumi – Yeongju, 171.5km
Friday, 27 April 2012
Stage 7 | Yeongju – Chungju, 140.0km
Saturday, 28 April 2012
Stage 8 | Yeoju – Hanam, 47.3km
Sunday, 29 April 2012