Tour of Chongming Island UCI Women’s WorldTour: China’s eco-friendly bike race

The Tour of Chongming Island UCI Women’s WorldTour showcases not only women’s cycling, but also a green environment in a densely populated area.

When the Shanghainese (there are around 25 million of them!) want to leave their city to enjoy an eco-friendly environment, they just have to cross the Yangtze River to Chongming Island. This alluvial island naturally emerged in the year 618 in the mouth of Asia’s longest river – the third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon – that takes its sources on the Tibetan plateau 6300km away. Chongming Island currently covers 1300 square kilometres and is part of the municipality of Shanghai, despite being closer to the Jiangsu province on its northern side. It faces the district of Pudong, home of Shanghai’s first international airport.

In 2013, the Tour of Chongming Island was won by Tetyana Riabchenko in a solo effort – rather than the much-anticipated bunch gallop – in a race that started on the city side of the majestic river, in the splendour of the Oriental Sports Centre of Shanghai. It meant heading 25km to Chongming via the bridge and tunnel that have connected the mainland and the island since 2009: the 9km Shanghai Yangtze River Tunnel leads to the south of Changxing island and is followed by the 16km Shanghai Yangtze River Bridge which ends at Chenjia Town in the county of Chongming.

Providing a modern alternative to the official ferry route that was opened by the Qing government in 1896, the work was inaugurated in 2005 by former President Jiang Zemin whose name remains associated with the bridge. But the cycling Tour of Chongming Island is older than that, its inception dating back to 2003. The event joined the UCI International Calendar in 2006 with Australia’s Robert McLachlan of Drapac-Porsche winning the five-stage men’s race.

One year later, it became China’s premier women’s international stage race with China’s Li Meifang winning the first two editions, the first ahead of Ellen van Dijk from the Netherlands and the second behind Australia’s Belinda Goss. Since then, with UCI Women World Cup then UCI Women’s WorldTour status, it remained the number one event for female cyclists in the country and the only one until the addition of the Tour of Guangxi Women’s WorldTour last year as the closing fixture of the UCI Women’s WorldTour.

Being completely, utterly, totally flat, Chongming has become a sprinters’ paradise. The record books feature the names of Australia’s Chloe Hosking, the Netherlands’ Kirsten Wild, Belgium’s Jolien D’hoore and Germany’s Charlotte Becker as dominating sprinters in recent years, with Italy’s Giorgia Bronzini, a former UCI World Champion, also a multiple stage winner.

The Tour of Chongming Island has a unique identity with wide straight roads, tight corners and a Queen of the Mountains prize on top of the bridge – the tunnel isn’t part of this year’s route. There’s no other way to race on China’s third biggest island (after Taiwan and Hainan – both of which are popular cycling destinations) and it often comes down to spectacular bunch sprints. This time around, all three stage finishes are taking place in New Park City.

Banners are deployed along the route to welcome and encourage participants and moreover to raise awareness of keeping the island green and clean. Water and nature are among the characteristics of Chongming, which boasts a reserve for birds and many canals. The Dongtan eco-city is being built to be carbon-neutral with as close to zero waste as possible: bio-energy is a big concern and sustainability is the goal. And that’s precisely why cycling is a fitting activity on Chongming Island.