When the Chinese Cycling Association’s (CCA) held its 2012 General Assembly in Beijing last December, Secretary-General Zhang Bin (张斌) lamented the lack of Olympic gold medals attributed to China’s road cyclists thus far. In announcing a three-pillar plan to develop the China’s national cycling program, it is clear every effort is being made to ensure the 2016 Rio Olympics will be different.
With the exception of female Chinese track cyclists Guo Shuang (2008, 2012), Jiang Yonghua (2004) and Cuihua Jiang (2000), medals from Olympic cycling disciplines have continued to evade the world’s most populous nation. This is not to say that China has not invested into cycling; some amazing infrastructure exists, but without any long-term planning behind it.
A prime example is the under-utilized velodrome in Laoshan, Beijing. Constructed specifically for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the sparkle of this superb facility in western Beijing has since been allowed to fade. Aside from the occasional World Cup Track Cycling meets, the velodrome lies in an inanimate state for much of the year, and has reportedly been off-limits to local clubs and teams who could otherwise benefit from hours on the world-class boards.
Notwithstanding their National Games, which is held every four years [Cycling iQ: the 12th National Games will be held in August in Liaoning Province this year] there is no more prized sporting object for China’s athletes than gold at the Olympic Games. Off the back of its most successful Olympic cycling campaign at London 2012 – where, led by Guo Shuang, China’s female track squad came away with a three-medal haul, albeit sans gold – the CCA has since pledged commitment to an enhanced framework of infrastructure and competition which aims to develop the national talent pool over the next four-year period to 2016; with a particular focus on the road cycling disciplines.
The three pillars of CCA’s 2013-2016 development plan:
– National standardized competition and increased marketing
– setup of Bicycle Institute and Performance Center at Laoshan velodrome in Beijing, in cooperation with universities, research institutes and international organizations
– registration of 11 UCI pro road cycling teams by end of 2013
Though China already boasts nine UCI Continental road cycling teams and one UCI ProContinental team, adding yet another would make it the third-biggest contributor of UCI teams to the global peloton – after Belgium and the USA, respectively. UCI points, which are critical to any country’s opportunity to win starting positions in Olympic cycling events, are also something which China has rapidly gained access to in recent years; UCI-sanctioned road cycling races in China account for 43 of 143 racing days in this year’s AsiaTour calendar. Furthermore, according to the CCA’s 2013 national cycling competition calendar released earlier this month (reproduced in English below) it appears the one-day Tour of the South China Sea – last held in 2010 as a UCI1.2 race – may be making a comeback.
Perhaps the most significant component of the three-point plan, is the mention of a dedicated cycling institute and performance centre at the Laoshan velodrome. High performance programs incorporated into the halo of national sports institutes, have been pivotal in those countries’ Olympic and international cycling achievements in recent years – just look at Australia and England for evidence – and it is logical that China should invest into a similar model which can be plugged into existing infrastructure.
It is early days yet, but the plan fleshed-out by CCA could also herald the beginning of a foreign recruitment drive. When China employed triple-Olympic track cycling champion Daniel Morelon (France) to train the women’s track cycling team ahead of the Beijing Olympics, the outcome was there for all to see. Further assistance was sought from Hong Kong’s legendary road and track cycling coach, Shen Jinkang, last year, but local reports suggest his counsel may not be available for much longer. Matching salaries to secure top coaching talent should not prove a barrier, either. As current record-holder for the most-expensive Games ever (Beijing, 2008), China has proven it is not scared to invest where gold and glory are concerned.