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Guangxi Cycling Race Opens Doors to the World

China in line to host more global events. There's a perplexing contradiction in Chinese cycling.

While the nation is the world's leading producer of bicycles, boasts the largest number of daily riders and is spearheading the global trend of shared bike service, there are few Chinese faces on the top-level professional circuits and the gap between the country's elite riders and the best of the rest continues to widen.

More than 100 riders representing 18 teams are competing in the 940-km Gree Tour of Guangxi, part of the UCI WorldTour, in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region from Oct 19-24 - but Wang Meiyin, who rides for Bahrain-Merida, is the lone Chinese entrant.

The race marks the first time the WorldTour has been staged in China since the Tour of Beijing from 2011-14. For Wang, the high-profile international event represents a giant step for Chinese cycling.

"The tour of Guangxi is very important for China, especially for Chinese fans," said Wang. "Everyone is excited to see high-level races come back to China. The organizers have worked hard to show what China can contribute to the rest of the world.

"But we need to show patience. The first step is to bring more high-level races here. It gives people a close experience to feel the thrill of cycling."

John Lelangue, senior adviser to the sport's world governing body UCI, agrees.

"It has to develop step by step. More Chinese riders will develop into pro leagues but it will take time," he said.

"Maybe some kids standing alongside the road are seeing their first race and they will say to their parents, 'Oh, I want to become a cyclist.' But it will take years. This is one of UCI's visions for developing cycling worldwide ... and China has huge potential."

Entering elite races like the UCI WorldTour is still a dream for most Chinese riders as few have succeeded in major international competitions.

Wang is the only Chinese rider currently on a World-Tour team. Retired Ji Cheng, who was the first Chinese to compete in the Tour de France, raced in 2016 for team Giant-Alpecin, now known as Sunweb.

Wang's coach Li Fuyu is also a pioneer on the international stage, riding for Team Marco Polo from 2005-06 before switching to the Pro Tour Discovery Channel under coach Johan Bruyneel in 2007. In 2010, Li rode for Team RadioShack, reuniting with Bruyneel, but was dismissed after testing positive for clenbuterol, a performance-enhancing compound.

Wang said Chinese riders should go out and compete overseas in order to catch up as soon as possible.

"My coach experienced a lot when he raced in international events," said Wang. "He helped me get into the top UCI team and achieved so much. Our experience could encourage the younger riders to enter top-level events.

"I wish I could win something for China and get into larger platforms. I want to stand on the podium."

UCI is committed to helping develop cycling in China, while at the same time welcoming more homegrown riders.

"It's definitely a priority to develop cycling all over the world and China is very important for this," said Tom Van Damme, president of the UCI management committee.

"Rome was not built in one day. It's the same with cycling. It is possible China will become a power in the sport, but it will take time and effort."

An agreement was reached between UCI and Wanda Group last year to develop men's and women's elite and grassroots cycling in China. It includes the Tour of Guangxi and a new women's elite race that has applied for UCI Women's WorldTour status in 2018.

Also, after the first two editions of the UCI Cycling Gala, the annual event awarding the year's greatest achievements in professional road cycling will take place in Guilin, a scenic city in Guangxi.

"We have a good partnership with China, and it's a long-term partnership," said Lelangue. "It's not only about the Tour of Guangxi. It includes the Women's Challenge in Guilin, the UCI Gala and the Urban World Championships, which will be in Chengdu next month."