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Chongming champions 'green sports' in international women's bike race

Professional women cyclists from around the world are racing around scenic Chongming Island in the 3rd Women's International Cycling Race. Fei Lai reports

Now is the time to get on your bike and tour Shanghai's suburbs, especially beautiful and rural Chongming Island. That's just what around 100 women athletes from around the world are doing through Tuesday, cheered on by fans along the way.

As last year, thousands of volunteer farmers are sweeping the roadway, keeping order and preventing the organic, free-range chickens from crossing the road.

The 2009 Tour of Chongming Island Women's International Cycling Race got underway yesterday, with some of the world's top 10 professional racers.

The 400-kilometer contest, now in its third year, features 14 teams from 12 countries and regions, including Australia, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and China.

It is organized by the General Administration of Sport of China and Shanghai municipal government.

Chongming County is predominantly a farming county, known for green, organic agriculture, pure air, clean water and protection of the environment. There are rustic villages, a clean eco-town, and a beautiful wetland park.

Promoting "green sports" like cycling is natural.

For the first time, a new 15-kilometer stretch runs close to the Yangtze River, with its beautiful scenery.

Last year's race was dominated by Chinese riders; Li Meifang, representing Hong Kong's Giant Pro Cycling Team, was named overall grand champion.

Shen Jinkang, Li's coach, said the professional team's strengths were obvious and years of training were paying off. He expects more professional teams to emerge in China.

In the 1980s, Chinese women cyclers were a major force in Asian racing, but the sport declined in the 1990s.

But under Shen's coaching, the national team's world ranking soared to No. 13 in 2008, 11 ranks higher than in 2007.

"Our teams can compete with each other and raise China to a higher level," Shen said. "Team spirit matters most in competition. Lack of experience in competitions is a major factor in performance."

Chongming County in the mouth of the Yangtze River is comprised of large Chongming Island (China's third-largest after Taiwan and Hainan), Changxing Island and Hengshan Island. It covers 1,411 square kilometers and has a population of 704,000.

The picturesque scenery, flat paved roads and scant traffic make it ideal for cycling. Golf is also popular and motor racing is developing.

Known primarily as an ecologically friendly farming island, the county is sending a message of "green sports in Chongming" by hosting the international cycling race.

During the past five years, Chongming has hosted domestic and international cycling races every year and is developing its strength in managing international sporting competitions.

It aims to combine protection of the environment with healthy, nonpolluting sports and make its name in China and the world.

Every year, locals have cheered the riders on in what is also an annual leisure-time activity for islanders.

Last year, 13 of the island's 16 townships were actively involved and contributed volunteers. More than 5,000 farmers kept order along the route, swept the roadway and prevented free-range poultry from wandering into the path of riders.

By 2020, Chongming expects to host three or four major domestic and international sports competitions.

"By the end of 2009, when the Yangtze River Tunnel is completed, we will organize a cycling event featuring 10,000 participants," said Zhu Yilin, vice governor of Chongming County.

"We welcome all cycling lovers to come to see the beautiful island and enjoy the fun of the sport."


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