Organizers: Korea’s top bike race to get better

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Organizers: Korea’s top bike race to get better

Entering its fifth year, Korea’s top road bicycle competition, the Tour de Korea, will keep growing into a premier race in Asia, a senior event organizer said Tuesday.

Sung Ki-hong, head of sports industry at the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation (KSPO), said the total purse for the Tour de Korea will increase next year and support from fans and local governments will be critical to the competition’s future.

“This year’s event will be held together with a national bicycle festival,” Sung said. “And results here will impact racers’ qualification for the London Olympics [next year]. This year’s race promises to be more exciting than ever.”

The Tour de Korea, which started out in 2007, will begin this Friday in Gumi, about 260 kilometers (162 miles) southeast of Seoul. The route will finish in Seoul on April 24, after passing through southern and eastern towns such as Geochang, Gunsan, Dangjin, Yangyang and Chuncheon.

About 200 foreign and Korean racers registered with International Cycling Union (UCI) or Korea Cycling Federation will enter the nine-stage race, covering almost 1,400 kilometers. Another group of 200 amateur cyclists will also participate.

Sung said the second stage, covering 224.7 kilometers from Geochang to Gangjin in the southern part of the country, will be the longest stage and predicted it will also be the toughest. He said the mountainous seventh stage from Taebaek to Yangyang, in Gangwon, will also be a challenge for riders.

“This year, we’ve added sprint elements to some stages with additional finish lines, and riders can win points to qualify for the London Olympics next year,” Sung said. “They will put on thrilling performances.”

The Tour de Korea was initiated as Korea’s answer to the Tour de France, the world-renowned road race competition. Admittedly, the local edition has long ways to go.

Sung said a combination of substantial prize money, cooperation from local governments and fan support is necessary for the Tour de Korea to develop into a viable international race.

Sung said local authorities have shown a great deal of interest in serving as stops for Tour de Korea stages. He said multiple regional governments were in the bidding for some stops this year, and the Tour de Korea has already filled up more than half of its slots for next year’s stage stops.

As for prize money, the Tour de Korea offers 200 million won ($184,200) for registered cyclists and 70 million won for amateurs. Sung said he plans to raise the total purse to 1 billion won next year.

“The higher the purse, the better the level of the competition [as recognized by the UCI],” Sung said. “And that will, in turn, draw better cyclists, which will naturally raise the quality of the race.”

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