The thrill, the thrill.
It’s that time again, the glorified training races in the sand, the desert classics, a Belgium of the Middle East. First, the Dubai Tour (Feb 4-7) followed by the Tour of Qatar, a dusty, windy, relentlessly flat affair (Feb 8-13) then the mildly intriguing Tour of Oman (Feb 17-22).
That’s a triple shot of desert fun with the top racers headed into a desolate landscape with zero spectators and no interesting geography to speak of until you finally reach the Green Mountain in Oman. It’s like a three week grand tour minus the crowds, variation in topography and barely any podium girls to speak of.
The Desert Classics are a fabulous investment for the sheiks and sovereigns of these places, bringing in journalists and photographers from around the world and giving them free 5 star hotels and all the food and alcohol they can consume. Which for shockingly underpaid media people is a huge draw. (We’d love to fly down and cover those “events” and report back from the comfort of our luxury suite.)
For the rest of the cycling world, Oman, Qatar and Dubai are this weird gab-bag of oddities. Vincenzo Nibalo posed next to a camel, Tejay van Garderen in a photo-op with two gentlemen in white robes and golden daggers, superstars like Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish showing off their sunburns and shopping in Doha.
It’s just a confusing experience all around? Where are the landmarks, the iconic roads, the cobblestones, the frites and beer, the chalk and paint on the roads? It’s like when they give you the gas at the dentist — five minutes into the experience and while you’re still awake and alert, you simply can’t feel a thing. That’s how Twisted Spoke feels about these, uhh, what are they calling them, races?
Oh sure, for the cycling wonks, there is plenty to tease out from rider performances in the desert. So-and-so is flying and which big star is still carrying a few extra kilos. I mean, yes, scribble some notes on who might be a dark horse to watch later in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.
Me, I think I’ll be