December 1, 2016 / 3:55 AM / in 8 months

China returns to UCI WorldTour with Wanda deal

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Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin (R) and President of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Brian Cookson attend a signing ceremony for a China hosted UCI world tour cycling race in Beijing, China, December 1 , 2016.Thomas Peter

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will return to global cycling's most prestigious circuit with a new stage race next year after the country's richest man, Wang Jianlin, announced an agreement with the sport's governing body (UCI) on Thursday.

The first race, part of a revised UCI WorldTour calendar, will be held in southern China's Guangxi autonomous region next October, organizer Dalian Wanda Group and the UCI revealed at a joint event in Beijing.

China previously hosted the five-stage Tour of Beijing from 2011-14 and the new event marks a continuation of a spree of deals Wang has reached to improve the country's sport sector.

The Wanda Group chairman has lead the charge to develop the country's nascent sports industry with a number of partnerships, including those related to basketball, soccer, triathlons and badminton.

"China has the largest cycling population," Wang told reporters. "This competition coming to China pushes forward national sport development."

President of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Brian Cookson, Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin, Guangxi autonomous region official Lan Tianli and Wang Jingdong of Gree Electric Appliances (background L- 4th R) attend a signing ceremony for a China hosted Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) world tour cycling race in Beijing, China, December 1, 2016.Thomas Peter

Next year's race will be about 1,000 kilometres long and is scheduled to last six days.

Slideshow (2 Images)

"The UCI's main role is to grow and develop cycling globally and China provides us with a wonderful opportunity to engage with literally hundreds of millions more people," UCI president Brian Cookson said.

Wanda Group, UCI and the Guangxi government signed the deal in Beijing that includes relating promotional events for cycling, with Gree Electric Appliances Inc of Zhuhai signing on as lead sponsor for the competition.

In June, Wanda signed a partnership deal with basketball's international governing body (FIBA) to oversee sales and marketing for the sponsorship and licensing rights for FIBA events globally.

Wang also struck a deal with FIFA to hold the first China Cup international football competition in southern China in January 2017.

Reporting by Jake Spring; Editing by Himani Sarkar/John O'brien

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