Who is revered Muslim cycling journalist Abdul Al Salaam? A quick look at his astonishing career.
He is a self taught man of wide ranging interests and curiosities: botanist, amateur film editor, a specialist in the Russian impressionists and card shark. Those who know him well claim he is the best Western Swing dancer in the Middle East. He has an astonishing collection of Stax era Philly soul records, plays the Japanese shamisen, a three stringed lute, and is a master of Double Dutch jump roping.
The only child of nomadic bedouins, Abdul grew up poor, lonely and starved for food. At the age of eight, while picking through a desert garbage dump, he came upon an old Motobecane frame and his life changed forever. Over the next 5 years he patiently restored the frame, begging parts off European sailors who had stopped in the port of Muscat. One witness said Al Salaam could assemble a vintage campagnolo Record set blinded folded in five minutes. Selling hashish to fund his restoration, he completed the bike and began training by chasing camels across the wadis.
Then his life took another turn. After winning the attentions of the Sultans’ wife, Al Salaam was forced to flee Oman on a fishing trawler bound for Peru, where he endured 5 years of exile. He spent his time studying Inca sacrificial customs, establishing a Bordeaux style winery and riding his trusty bike high up into the Andes mountains.
It was during this time that he formulated certain theories about high altitude training and bio-psychology. He wrote three books on the subject of snow and recorded a parody song called “Camels Have No Pedals, that hit #1 on the charts in Brazil. A chance meeting with four time Paris-Roubaix winner Roger De Vlaeminck in a Cusco bar, altered his fate once again. Al Salaam moved to Belgium where he became a soigneur, mechanic and motivational coach to some of the greatest cyclists of the age. Moser, Merckx, Hinault and a young Johan Museeuw all benefited from his wisdom and tactical brilliance.
Sadly, on the verge of being named the Belgian National Team coach, Abdul Al Salaam was nearly killed while out riding his trusty Motobecane. Hit by an aging Citroen, he sustained massive injuries and trauma, spending three months in intensive care in a deep coma. It was only the surprise midnight visit of boyhood hero Rik Van Steenbergen that brought him out of his deathlike sleep.
Abdul Al Salaam immediately returned to his home in Muscat, in the Sultanate of Oman, where he began his cycling journalism career with feverish intensity. Sometimes he wrote for days on end about a single section of cobblestone in the Tour of Flanders. Al Salaam buried himself in what he considered his life’s work. As always he was patiently assisted by his third wife, Sophie, a former podium girl he met during the ’61 Tour de France.
Now blind and afflicted by searing migraines, he still finds time to listen to old Tour de France races on a battered VCR. A steady steam of guests keep his spirits up — just this last week famed cycling writer John Wilcockson stopped by for tea. Happily the inaugural Tour of Oman stage race has allowed true cycling fans to discover this singularly fascinating and influential man.