Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, this summer will not be the same without the Tour of Qinghai Lake for cyclists and fans around the world.

Yet, at the end of July, which coincides with the event’s originally planned schedule, sports industry experts gathered here to explore the future path for the country’s biggest cycling event, as the organisers seek to duplicate the success and glory of the renowned Tour de France.

The Rise

In 2002, 102 cyclists from 17 teams around the world gathered in Xining, capital city of Qinghai, marking the inception of the race.

Over the past 19 years, the Tour of Qinghai Lake has become the world’s fourth largest cycling event, after the Tour de France, Tour of Italy and Tour of Spain, attracting over hundreds of cycling enthusiasts and professionals from home and abroad every year.

The Tour is now known in the cycling world as the “Race in the Sky” due to the unique experience and challenges of racing at an altitude of over 3,000 meters.

After being promoted from a 2.5-category to a 2.3-category race by the International Cycling Union (UCI), the race has also been sanctioned by UCI as a 2.HC race, a top intercontinental road stage race, second only to HC races, such as the Tour de France.

Over time, the tour has sparked a cycling boom in China, as more and more cycling events are springing up all over the country, said Zhang Qiangqiang from Beijing Sport University.

The Struggle

It has been a thorny road for the Tour to be internationally recognised.

In the first years, the cycling event largely relied on financial support from the government. But as the tour takes shape, the event has begun to better serve the local economy.

“Hosting the Tour is not only about organising the race. It is also about building a sustainable industry that accommodates to global dynamics and local feature,” said Gesang Cering, head of Qinghai’s sport bureau.

This year, Xining was approved to be the permanent host of the Tour’s opening ceremony. Experts pointed out that as the city is a key point on the Silk Road, the decision has great significance in building a sound industry which is also be conducive to the event’s brand.

“In the future, based on the Tour itself, we will build a diversified industry featured with tourism and training. The sport and the industry will finally join hands for a greater future,” said Cering.

The Future

On social media, athletes and fans regret the decision to call off the tour due to the global pandemic. But the organising committee still managed to pull off a cycling carnival, with a view to turning the crisis into opportunities.

From its outset, the Tour has taken environmental impact as a top priority, with a commitment to building an ecologically friendly race.

“As Qinghai is pushing for its national park pilot project, the Tour is making its ecological contributions. By finding a right balance, the Tour has become a fete for the fans and ordinary people alike,” said Cering.

According to a survey, other than creating economic profits, the Tour has put Qinghai under global spotlight, which, in turn, leads to new ground marked with dynamic international cooperation.

But the ultimate goal for the Chinese event is to become a century-old race that can rival the Tour de France, which had been around since 1903.

“The altitude, the great challenge on route and the splendid landscape are the unique advantages of the Tour. By seizing the uniqueness, Qinghai is not far away from creating its own century-old glory,” said Zhang.