Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) president Pat McQuaid tonight revealed that the 2009 ProTour would almost certainly feature stage-races in both Russia and China, even claiming that provisional dates for the two races are already in place.
Speaking to reporters at the Tour of California in Solvang, McQuaid predicted that the region around Sochi in southern Russia would play host to a six-day race next May. This would be followed in September by an eight-day contest close to Beijing. The Russian race has apparently been personally requested by president Vladimir Putin to tie in with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
"I think that they will more than definitely [sic] go ahead," McQuaid said of the two proposed races. "President Putin has an overall economic policy of organizing international sporting events, and a ProTour race in Russia fits in with that.
"I've already been surprised by how interested some of the teams have been," McQuaid continued. "I think at the Quick-Step presentation, the company CEO [Frans De Cock] said that he'd be very interested in competing in both countries. Obviously I wouldn't expect all of the teams to want to go: for example, the French sponsors are pretty much all national companies, and I'm not sure how much interest they'd have in those races."
Despite long-standing rumours of the ProTour expanding into Russia, arguably the country's most famous cycling son, Astana directeur sportif Viatcheslav Ekimov, seemed surprised by McQuaid's comments tonight.
"McQuaid really said that it would happen? I have no idea," Ekimov told BikeRadar.com. "I really can't think of anyone who might be organizing this. If it's going to be around Sochi, it'll be in the same region as one the biggest races we used to ride in the old Soviet Union, the Sochinskuja Gonku...If that's the case, there's quite a good cycling culture there, and the crowds should be pretty big. If it goes ahead, Astana will definitely be taking part".
After answering our questions, Ekimov scuttled off in McQuaid's direction, no doubt with a few of his own.