Coming back higher and harder than in 2012, the 12th Tour de Korea (09-16 June) ditches a full north-to-south traverse in favour of elevation and compactness. With fourteen categorised climbs, including two C1 s, and a 25.5km team time trial, only a genuine all-rounder should emerge victorious.
First run in 2001, the Tour de Korea has a lot going for it; not least of which is direct backing from the South Korean government. With its USD200,000 overall prize purse, aerial media coverage, first-rate traffic enforcement and opening/closing ceremonies that probably wouldn t look out of place at the Olympics, it is possibly one of the most well-resourced UCI2.2 races anywhere in the world.
In terms of contribution to the pro cycling scene, South Korea has always ranked highly after China and Japan, respectively in terms of the number of riders racing for UCI professional cycling teams. However, this significant representation remained purely at a UCI Continental until late last year, signed. Indeed, one of the problems for aspiring riders from the PRK has been a lack of exposure to international racing when compared to their peers from China and Japan [Note: graph below is from the 2012 season; a 2013 update will be made next month.]
28 year-old Sung Baek Park (KSPO) remains the only South Korean to have won the Tour de Korea (in 2007 and 2012) since it gained UCI2.2 status as part of the then newly-formed UCI AsiaTour in 2005.
On disembarkation, the pro s arriving into Seoul will immediately notice two things; their bags will probably arrive on the baggage carousel before they do (even after a brisk immigrations process), and connection with the outside world will be so fast they will need to handle their smartphones with oven gloves (Korea completed the rollout of its nationwide LTE network in mid-2012).
There is an energy and night-life to Seoul (population 10.5 million) that could be overwhelming to those riders who live in smaller towns, but it won t be long before they are amongst the parks, rivers and lakes of the region s northeast. Clean, ultra-modern, efficient and relatively unspoilt, South Korea is a comfortable place to be a visiting pro cyclist but not in the harsh winter.
Previously held in the month of April, when days are pleasant and dry, if not slightly on the chilly side, the Tour de Korea (or TdK to abbreviate) will this year take place in summer. Higher humidity will be a factor, and daytime temperatures can reach 30-35 C. Historically, the Monsoon season officially starts in July, so torrential downpours will hopefully not be on the radar this early.
No single stage of last year s race contained any climbs in excess of 500 meters. Well, what a difference a year makes! Pure sprinters will have to leave their GC ambitions at home, whilst pure climbers can expect to plummet down the general classification in stage five, should their TT form not be dialled.
Under UCI2.2 stage race regulations, teams must have a minimum of four, and maximum of six, riders and four officials. Three ProContinental teams headline a high-quality field, with Team Nippo De Rosa the Continental team du jour, coming off a Japanese Grand Slam of sorts with dual victories in last month s Tour of Japan and Tour de Kumano.
Every one of Korea s three Continental squads, and a national team, are scheduled to start, which will mean foreign riders need to be attentive to attacks Seoul Cycling Team was the main protagonist last year from the moment the race director drops his flag and retreats to the comfort of his leather-lined Hyundai.
Champion System Pro Cycling, MTN Qhubeka, Nippo De Rosa, Hong Kong s national team and RTS Racing are all packing serious heat; look out for names like Jang (brothers Chanjae and Sunjae, riding for CSS and RTS Racing respectively), Louis Meintjes, Choi Ki Ho, Muradjan Halmuratov, Juli n David Arredondo, Feng Chun Kai and Sung Baek Park. FULL START LIST HERE
LEADER S JERSEYS
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 KRW200,000,000 (USD179,000) has fallen by USD20,000 when compared to last year, but Tour de Korea remains the richest UCI2.2 race on the AsiaTour. Here s the breakdown:
Overall winner (individual) = KRW12,000,000 (USD10,700) Overall team = KRW10,500,000 (USD9,400) Overall KOM = KRW4,000,000 (USD3,600) Overall Points = KRW4,000,000 (USD3,600) Overall Young Rider = KRW4,000,000 (USD3,600)
Stage winner = KRW4,000,000 (USD3,600)
Still in development, the official Tour de Korea website will be primed for increased multi-media content delivery compared to last year. Speaking of which, last year s site was not fully ready to go until hours before the first stage got underway, and the deployment timeline of features on the 2013 version is regrettably consistent with this. However, things happen fast in South Korea, so keep checking back in the days leading up to the race.
The Tour de Korea is also on Facebook and Twitter. Similar to this year s Tour de Taiwan, TdK has split its target audience, so Facebook updates will be predominantly written in Korean, whilst Twitter updates will be predominantly written in English. Malaysian photographer Aaron Lee is once again being flown in by KSPO (TdK organizer and owner of the eponymous team) to provide official images. Daily stage reports, with full results, images, interviews and other snippets will be posted here.
Followers of Cycling iQ s Twitter feed may also recall there was a live stream of the final stage from Korea s Broadcasting Service last year. This post will be updated if, and when, such live streams are discovered/announced.
Finally, Cycling iQ can confirm a professional television crew has been commissioned to create daily highlights packages, which will in turn be broadcast on the official website. This is a huge move in the right direction for UCI AsiaTour stage races, considering the almost unrivalled exposure this gives to sponsors, not to mention engagement with fans.
STAGES AND PROFILES
Stage 1 | Cheonan Muju 172.0km
Sunday, 9 June 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 2 | Muju Gumi 138.1km
Monday, 10 June 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 3 | Gumi Yeongju 165.2km
Tuesday, 11 June 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 4 | Yeongju Chungju 156.0km
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 5 | Chungju Chungju (TTT) 25.5km
Thursday, 13 June 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 6 | Pyeongchang Yangyang 184.7km
Friday, 14 June 2013 (starts 09:30 local time)
Stage 7 | Yangyang Hongcheon 145.1km
Saturday, 15 June 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 8 | Hongcheon Hanam 90.8km
Sunday, 16 June 2013 (starts 10:00 local time)