Dubai. Horse. Bike race.
The UCI easy season calendar gets more and more crowded in the Middle East. With the newly minted Tour of Dubai joining Qatar and Oman, we now have a trio of training slash races in the Middle East.
As actor Peter Sellers said in After The Fox, the greatest comedy most people never saw, “I want more sand in the desert.” Well, folks, we’ve got it. Before the wind and rain and cobblestones, there will be sand and Saharan winds and really, really tall skyscrapers. This could get gritty.
The dates break down as follows for what the UCI inaccurately calls part of the Asia Tour:
Tour of Dubai February 5th – 8th
Tour of Qatar February 9th – 14th
Tour of Oman February 18th – 23rd
Everybody should be pretty warmed up after all that sunshine, pool lounging and oh by the way, the bike racing.
We don’t really know what to think about these races other than we’d love a press credential to stumble around the bazaar.. From the far distance of California, they look like glorified training blocks transplanted in countries with zero bike culture. Places where half the year the idea of riding a bike outside in temperatures over 100 degrees isn’t healthy, it’s a death sentence.
Now perhaps that shows my ignorance and dated prejudices and lack of geographical awareness but really, it’s an odd threesome. Perhaps I fail to understand the rapidly changing perceptions and economic realities of Dubai — voted best place to live in the Middle East! — or that this is un-tapped (had to throw in an oil drilling allusion) yet fertile ground for cycling in general.
The irony of a marriage between fossil fuels and bikes it always a funny one. We have the petro dollars funding Katusha and Astana and new races in Oman, Dubai and Qatar. Insanely rich oil sheiks plan to pump up the tourist dollars by showcasing soccer and horse racing and bike racing and ping-pong and whatever else attracts a crowd.
Fabian Cancellara attracts a crowd. Even in Dubai. They will most likely be ex-pats but who knows. Spartacus in the desert is a quality motif. Imagine the photo ops — the massive oiled thighs, the scruffy camel, the alluring Scheherazade in a long white robe with Trek sponsor logo, a road that stretches off into the mysterious desert where UCI points are accumulated. The cinematic possibilities are rampant.
Then we have what we call the Duels in the Desert, Oman and Qatar, the Belgium Brotherhood of the Middle East, a kind of Hell of the much further South, classics without cobbles or frites but plenty of kebobs. The whole thing smacks of crazy — a sports version of artificial insemination.
We know what the bike racers are doing down in the desert — training and getting the Hell out of frozen Europe. We’re also assuming some large appearance fees or extra incentives for bringing the multicolor lycra circus to the cycling hinterlands. But what are we doing down there?
From what we understand, journalists covering this Desert Twosome are given the royal treatment — five star hotel accommodations, glorious meals and free airlines tickets. It’s a vacation of sorts and thus becomes a bit harder to bring a critical eye to the events. Pros are pros and ethics are ethics but it’s only human to be extra positive about these strange events when you’re in a $500 hotel room and everybody calls you their Most Excellent and Honored Guest.
That’s just me — I want to be a Most Excellent Guest and if I’m part of the tourist promotion in return for the banquet and sunshine, then send me my ticket. I’m all in and packing the bathing suit.
Will Dubai and Oman and Qatar ever have any true meaning for pro cycling other than glorified junket and sandy warm-up acts? This seems unlikely for Dubai and Qatar — a race with one week-long profile — flat, flat, endless flat.
Of the three creations, only Oman seems like it might acquire meaning as a race on its own merits. The coastline is stunning, there are actual small towns for local color and the climb up the Green Mountain — the dramatic Jabal Al Akhdhar — is worth some myth-making.
Perhaps someday Dubai, Oman and Qatar will have a rich cycling history of their own. Right now, not so much.