It's the end of the line for the Tour of Beijing, and none too soon, writes Al Hinds.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

In contrast to its contentious introduction to the WorldTour calendar
back in 2011, the Tour of Beijing, has disappeared quietly, with the tiniest of whimpers.

A footnote on a UCI Press Release overnight, in the second from last par, delivered the race's epitaph. A mark of gratitude to the organisers of the event, and the efforts of those to develop it in the years since its inception from Brian Cookson as part of the 2015 calendar announcement. No other explanation, but gone all the same.

The UCI, which spearheaded the race's creation as part of its event's arm, Global Cycling Promotions, was understandably none-too-happy to try and sweep the news under the carpet. Beijing has been mired in controversy from the start.

Even before a pedal had been pushed, a wheel spun, the race was caught up in the political to-and-fro between the UCI and the teams that plagued much of 2010 and 2011. A boycott was threatened by several WorldTour teams as they clashed with the UCI over the contentious race radio rule, and the lack of transparency in WorldTour moneys - funded by the teams - in setting up Global Cycling Promotions. Even to get teams to the start line in 2011, required some arm-twisting from then UCI President Pat McQuaid, who reportedly directly pressured team sponsors to force their teams to take part or face possible "commercial ramifications" from the Chinese.

The race was very nearly still-born, but saved at the last by a compromise on a number of the team's demands.

Then there was the smog. The heavy air pollution created by the estimated 22 million strong Beijing population, deterred many riders predisposed to breathing conditions, such as asthma, from even attending. Those that did attend were still in for a rude shock. Air quality indexes show pollution levels in the Chinese capital rarely meet World Health Standards, with periods of a week or more as recently as February of this year recording levels as high as 15 times the safe daily dose. And unlike the Beijing Olympics, where authorities shutdown the city to abate pollution levels, no such measures were made for the Tour. Some place for a bike race.

Clenbuterol caused issues too, with food having to be heavily controlled as a result. Last year, the substance wasn't even tested for - a tacit acceptance from authorities that the prevalence of the substance in food, was beyond control. Michael Rogers positive, Fuyu Li's 2010 positive, and Jonathan Breyne positive late last year have given racing in China a bad name. One wonders how easily the UCI would've been able to convince riders to head to the event next year considering the potential damage an accidental positive can wreak on a rider's career.

But at the heart of the race's demise is that it's a white elephant both within China and from the perspective of observers abroad. There was no grassroots support for the event taking place - much like the Tour of Qatar - it existed in a sort of vacuum from the rest of the country. Crowds were sparse at best, a reflection perhaps partly, of the lack of local riders taking part, but as much of the disinterest of the local population as a whole. And if there was little interest from the local population, it was more or less matched externally. Its place on the calendar, its uninspiring parcours (okay, last year was an improvement), and the declining calibre of the field left me, and I'm sure most, feeling apathetic about the event. What was the point?

Like the uncle who gave you a 300 page book about Australian native fish for Christmas because he heard you liked swimming, and fish swim, and it was half-price, and… look at least he got you something, right? It's a bit like that. It's the thought that counts. The UCI wanted to globalise the sport. China was a natural market for expansion. They had government support. Away we go. But it's never that simple.

The reality was, Beijing was a disaster, and the decision to end is long overdue. But it's also part of a broader movement in the UCI's longer term vision to shrink and consolidate the calendar. This is just phase one, the beginnings of the trimmings. Two week Grand Tours, a shorter racing year, smaller rosters, it's all in the offing. We'll find out exactly what's planned when the UCI releases its next draft strategy document later this year, but from what's been rumoured, a more focused calendar centralised around the months of March-September is what the UCI is pushing for.

What that means for other races on the periphery of the existing calendar remains to be seen, but the Giro di Lombardia brought forward, and the Santos Tour Down Under pushed out of January are certainly possibilities. Globalisation, is still on the agenda, but forays into China, for now at least, look to be on hold. Beijing, a cautionary tale.