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Shanghai's Giro sampler proves a real smooth ride

By ALYWIN CHEW | China Daily | Updated: 2019-12-10 09:39

Organizers of the inaugural Giro d'Italia Ride Like A Pro event in Shanghai have praised the efforts of the local authorities for making the event a success.

Over 3,000 amateur riders of all ages took part in competitive races and fun rides over the weekend at the National Convention and Exhibition Center in Shanghai's Qingpu district, while a "Legends Race" on Sunday featured the likes of Alberto Contador, Alessandro Ballan, Andy Schleck and Oscar Freire.

"Many of the riders we spoke to today said this is the first time they've seen road closures for such a cycling event in China. No major city in China has ever closed its roads for a 70-kilometer cycling circuit," said Greg Hooton, the event director and vice president of race organizer IMG.

"The roads are not closed completely for some of these events in Italy. To do so is a huge logistical undertaking and the Qingpu government has just been fantastic. We couldn't have done this without them."

Hailing the efforts of the local authorities as "perfect", Enrico Fili, the chief executive officer of RCS Sports-the owner of the Giro d'Italia brand-said that Ride Like A Pro is aimed at promoting not just cycling but also Italian culture to the Chinese market.

A host of Italian brands, including coffee giant Lavazza, added a festival feel to the event, with organizers keen to expand future editions to include more race categories, lifestyle offerings and entertainment options.

"China for us is a very important market because there are many amateur riders and cycling enthusiasts," said Fili.

"During the Giro d'Italia, cyclists travel through Italy and get to see many different traditions, products and ways of life. We want to bring this experience abroad and create a little village in which people can taste Italian coffee and other products. We are trying to put together the best of Italy and showcase this through cycling."

Noting that the growing popularity of cycling in China, Fili added that future editions could even accommodate up to 10,000 riders, while Hooton reckons a Chinese cycling boom is in the making.

"Not many people ran marathons in 2011. Now, you can't even get a spot in the marathon," Hooton said.

"The same is happening here with cycling. The demand is already there. For instance, we had to cap the participation numbers at 3,000 for this first edition and we were completely sold out."

According to Hooton, organizers have an agreement with the local government to host Ride Like A Pro for another four years.

Contador, one of the most successful cyclists of his generation and a two-time Giro d'Italia and Tour de France champion, won the Legends Race on Sunday.

The Spaniard, though, insisted that he hasn't missed the thrills of professional racing since he retired in 2017.

"Whenever I'm at a competition I always try to win. But I'm happy to have ended my competitive career. I gave cycling my all for 15 years and now it's time for other things in life. I still train three days a week but only because this is my passion," he said.

Contador said that he has been kept busy since his retirement-commentating for Eurosport, fulfilling commercial commitments for several brands, as well as working on various projects for his Alberto Contador Foundation.

The non-profit organization currently works with three cycling teams, and the 37-year-old suggested there could be scope to work with Chinese sports bodies in the future.

"The highest level of competition is in Europe. My foundation would be able to help aspiring Chinese riders achieve that level. China needs to have a good strategy to build its talent and we're open to opportunities," he said.

Ballan, who finished second in the Legends Race, also reckons China has the potential to compete on the sport's biggest stages.

"I think China has a big opportunity to put its riders on the world stage-it is a really big country," said the Italian. "It's possible to have an all-Chinese team at the UCI World Tour or Tour de France, but they need get their steps right."

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