A reliable, if somewhat inert, mainstay of the UCI AsiaTour since its inception in 2005, the eight-day Tour de Korea has recently sprung into life. Elevated from UCI2.2 to UCI2.1 status in 2014, Korea s only professional road cycling event will this year host a WorldTeam for the first time in its 15-year history.
Plastic surgery, equine dance moves, bibimbap. These are likely to be amongst the things most nominated by non-Koreans when asked to associate something with South Korea (aka ROK, Republic of Korea). It s a pity we most probably know very little about Korean cycling and cycling culture, but its unlikely to remain that way for much longer.
Korea s role in the UCI s Asia developmental agenda is significant. The Asian Cycling Confederation is headquartered in Seoul and Korea s Cycling Federation (KCF) has been earnestly training and hosting cycling squads from emerging Asian nations (India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc) at the WCC satellite centre it opened in 2013 for several years now. Since the Tour of Beijing was dumped in 2014 (an early, if not obvious, casualty of Brian Cookson s presidency), Tour de Korea now also arguably carries the burden of being the signature stage race in Northeast Asia (with Tour de Langkawi holding that mantle in SE Asia). It could be posited the UCI doesn t really have anywhere else to turn to for support; even if Japan s flagging economy is showing signs of life, one-day races remain the only practical growth area due to stifling bureaucracy and high costs of holding a stage race in the land of the rising sun. China is no longer flavour of the month, and China s Cycling Association will do whatever it wants anyway. Korea may very well be the UCI s pivot to Asia .
It s fortunate, then, that cycling culture in Korea is in a healthy position. Up to 2 million bicycles are imported annually with high-end road bikes comprising an increasing percentage of that quantity and most global bicycle brands have set up branch offices in response to growing demand. Colnago, imported by Samchuly (Korea s largest bicycle manufacturer), has 24 retail outlets in the Seoul Metropolitan area alone! With a sophisticated consumer base, avant-garde cycling sub-cultures are cropping up and the all-important artisan coffee scene is exploding.
In sporting terms, KCF and KSPO (the national sports promotion body) have focused on track cycling as the best route to all-important Olympic medals. Korea has not yet produced an Olympic medal-winning cyclist and, although consistently a solid performer in short-course team events, the country doesn t feature as strongly in endurance events like the Points Race or Pursuit. Still, the upside for road cycling is the system churns out a lot of fit young athletes that know how to turn a crank. The majority of riders from Korea s four UCI Continental teams Geumsan Insam Cello, Korail Cycling Team, KSPO and Seoul Cycling Team have spent vast stretches of their young lives on the boards.
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.
Moving from its regular April slot on the UCI AsiaTour calendar to June a few years ago meant the race became potentially more exposed to unpredictable weather, especially as the monsoon season officially starts in July. Maximum temperatures of 30-35 C are common, as is high humidity. This sometimes gives way to biblical downpours; in 2012, a stage was called off due to surface flooding.
Disappointingly, the challenging parcours of the last two editions of TdK don t appear to be part of a general trend. This year s course looks more familiar to that of 2012; sprint-focused, no arduous double-digit gradient climbs, a couple of short circuit races in theory a gift to team, not individual, performances.
As per article 2.1.005 of the UCI regulations, the 2015 Tour de Korea is open to the following teams: UCI WorldTeam (to a maximum of 50% of all participating teams) UCI Professional Continental, UCI Continental and National. In accordance with article 2.2.003, teams must have a minimum of four, and maximum of eight, riders the actual number being set by the organiser, which for TdK is six riders per team. Of the 120 starters, 32 riders are registered with the Korean Cycling Federation, whilst 74 come from federations attached to the Asian Cycling Confederation (ACC). The most represented foreign nation is Australia, with 15 riders.
The last two editions of Tour de Korea have been won by British riders in Rapha Condor JLT colours Hugh Carthy (2014) and Mike Cuming (2013) whilst Sung Baek Park (KSPO) remains the only South Korean to have won his national race.
FINAL START LIST (PDF) 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) is unchanged from recent years. Here s the breakdown (forex rate USD1 = KRW1,096):
Overall winner (individual) = KRW18,000,000 (USD16,500) Overall team = KRW11,000,000 (USD10,000) Overall KOM = KRW4,000,000 (USD3,600) Overall Points = KRW4,000,000 (USD3,600) Overall Young Rider = KRW4,000,000 (USD3,600)
Stage winner = KRW4,500,000 (USD4,100)
Rejuvenated and re-launched for the 2015 event, the official Tour de Korea website contains all the information you d expect and quite a lot more that you d hope to see. Confusingly, there are still some remnants of the 2014 race scattered across the pages but, two weeks out from the race start, this will no doubt be swept under the virtual carpet.
Tour de Korea is on Facebook and Twitter, with updates to the former being in Korean and to the latter in English. Inline translation software on both social media platforms means nobody misses out anyway even if the translations are quite often iffy. Photographers from local cycling mag Superbike will be uploading images to the website and 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.
Cycling iQ s Twitter feed published a rather convoluted process to view a live stream of the final stage from Korea s Broadcasting Service (KBS) last year. Live streaming of this year s final stage in Seoul will be available directly from the official TdK website thanks to a plug-in from KBS channel KBS N.
Fans who enjoyed last year s daily video highlights will be pleased to know each stage will be shot, edited and uploaded to KSPO s Vimeo channel. All in all, there should be no shortage of race coverage.
STAGES AND PROFILES
Stage 1 | Busan Gumi 189.1km
Sunday, 7 June (starts 09:30 local time)
Stage 2 | Gumi Muju 174.4km
Monday, 8 June (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 3 | Muju 99.0km
Tuesday, 9 June (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 4 | Muju Yeosu 207.0km
Wednesday, 10 June (starts 09:30 local time)
Stage 5 | Yeosu Gangjin 175.0km
Thursday, 11 June (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 6 | Gangjin Gunsan 193.7km
Friday, 12 June (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 7 | Gunsan Daejeon 145.8km
Saturday, 13 June (starts 10:00 local time)
Stage 8 | Seoul 65.0km
Sunday, 14 June (starts 09:00 local time)