Ever since its wonderful connection with the Tour de France, Hainan has been nurturing the idea of creating a globally influential cycling event. In 2000, the Hainan Provincial Department of Culture and Sports had planned to cooperate with China Central Television (CCTV) and the Chinese Cycling Association to organize the "Around the Island Race." However, this plan was not eventually executed, and they had to continue waiting for the right opportunity. One day in 2005, the Vice Secretary-General of the Hainan Provincial Government, who was responsible for cultural and sports affairs, received instructions from the then Hainan Provincial Governor, Wei Liucheng. These instructions mentioned a letter written by Verbruggen to Wang Qishan.
Hein Verbruggen, born in Helmond, Netherlands in 1941, was a sports enthusiast with a passion for running, skiing, and cycling. From 1984 to 1991, he served as the President of the International Professional Cyclists Union (IFPC). Later, he became the President of the International Cycling Union (UCI) and played a crucial role in establishing UCI professional cycling events. In 1996, Verbruggen joined the International Olympic Committee (IOC). During Beijing's bid for the Olympic Games, Verbruggen was the Chairman of the Evaluation Commission for the 29th Olympic Games. Under his leadership, the evaluation committee provided a comprehensive, objective, and fair assessment of Beijing's capabilities and conditions to host the Olympics, laying a solid foundation for Beijing to win the hosting rights for the 2008 Olympic Games. This experience forged a strong connection between Verbruggen and China.
Subsequently, Hein Verbruggen was appointed as the Chairman of the Coordination Commission by the International Olympic Committee due to his recommendation for Beijing. In this role, he was responsible for coordinating between the International Olympic Committee and Beijing. Due to the requirements of his position, Verbruggen visited many cities in China. As the former President of the International Cycling Union, he was deeply captivated when he happened to set foot on Hainan's land. The picturesque scenery, pleasant climate of the South China Sea island, beautiful coastlines, and well-maintained roads that stretched across the island immediately caught his attention. It was like a natural arena gifted by the heavens. Moreover, China is a cycling powerhouse, and Hainan Island, as an emerging tourism province, was showing a promising upward trend in the development of sports and culture. All of these factors left Verbruggen with one thought in his mind: to organize an international road cycling competition here.
Hainan before becoming a boom city
In the same year, while attending the 10th National Games in Nanjing, Hein Verbruggen had a special meeting with a representative from Hainan Province. During this meeting, he introduced the concept of Tour of Hainan and conveyed his idea of organizing it in Hainan. Although at this point, the ability to host the race and the road infrastructure were not issues, the representative hesitated to commit due to the substantial costs associated with hosting the event. Upon returning to Hainan, the representative immediately reported this matter to the relevant leadership. Everyone was excited that the "Around the Island Race" was back on the agenda, but they were also hesitant about how to proceed and make progress due to the financial challenges involved.
Verbruggen didn't give up on this idea. He decided to communicate his concept directly through a letter to Wang Qishan, who was the Mayor of Beijing at that time. The essence of the letter was, "I know that you have previously served as the highest-ranking official in Hainan, so you may agree with my proposal – hosting the Tour of Hainan should be beneficial for promoting and publicizing the island." Wang Qishan naturally understood the indirect intention behind Verbruggen's letter. What's more, as a former senior official in Hainan, he was supportive of the idea of the "Tour of Hainan." He forwarded Verbruggen's letter to Wei Liucheng, the then-Governor of Hainan Province, and Governor Wei's approval was included in the official response to the letter.
Wei Liucheng, as the first "CEO Governor" in China, having transitioned from a senior executive in a state-owned enterprise to a provincial-level official, once personally purchased 100 copies of the globally popular and enduring bestseller "Letters to Garcia." He gave these books as a special New Year gift to his colleagues. Much like the act of delivering a letter portrayed in the book, the letter that eventually found its way to Hainan Island, overcoming twists and turns, became a significant witness to the birth of the Around the Island Race. Governor Wei Liucheng expressed his support for hosting an international cycling race in Hainan, stating, "Hosting an international cycling race in Hainan is a great thing, and the Hainan provincial government will strongly support it. Please take the initiative to contact the International Cycling Union and strive to make it happen, aiming for an annual event." Later, in the Governor's office, Wei Liucheng reiterated his firm commitment to hosting the Around the Island Race, emphasizing that they must find a way to make it happen.In 2006, after a decade of nurturing, the Around the Island Race had its first edition. Since then, Hainan Island finally realized its dream of having its own professional cycling event.