Monday, 28 January 2013

Cycling, Qatar And The 2016 Worlds...

In 6 days time riders will once again find themselves in the desert for a week of racing as the Tour of Qatar begins. Not renowned for it's love of cycling the middle east seems an unusual place for WorldTour cycling to venture. Money obviously talks, but is it purely commercial? With the announcement that the 2016 World Championship Road Race will take place in the desert, just what is the cycling scene like in Qatar and what does it have to offer the sport?...

The 2013 edition of the Tour of Qatar will be it's twelfth so travelling to the middle east and enduring soaring temperatures are nothing new to the modern peloton but the race hasn't changed much and is generally regarded as a little more than a marketing gimmick by most cycling fans. It's the second race on the WorldTour calendar which means it practically screams 'training race' and that's basically the essence of it. Taken victory here would obviously be sweet, but I doubt any protour rider makes it their 'season goal'. It doesn't make for a great spectacle either, largely down to the lack of scenery and lack of gradient - indeed Qatar is one of the flattest countries on the planet with it's highest point a mere 85 metres above sea level - this essentially creates a week long stage race that's decided in the sprints, there isn't much here for a General Classification rider to get their teeth stuck into and the race generally becomes a tired repeat of sprint finishes day after day - the initial excitement of the final 400 metres from stage 1 soon wears off. Occasionally some rest bite may come in the form of echelons. A pan flat country means plenty of wind and sometimes this can create a glimmer of hope for the rouleurs and GC riders who have made the lengthy journey to the desert. If there is no wind, then it's likely to be a boring race all round.

Cycling: Tour of Qatar 2012 / Stage 3
Illustration Illustratie / Bordures Echelons Waaiers / Peleton Peloton / Landscape Paysage Landschap / 
Dukhan - Al Gharafa Stadium (146,5Km)/
Ronde / Rit Etape /(c)Tim De Waele
Echelons Make Or Break
The Tour Of Qatar
So why give Qatar the opportunity to host the World Road Race Championships? A race of high prestige the World's has only been held outside of it's European homeland on six occasions since 1927. Fundamentally Europe is the base of 'Global' cycling, which may seem strange but expansion is only a relatively recent thing in cycling and most of the history, the tales, the myth and legend of cycling has been solely created within Europe. Handing the race to another continent is clearly a big deal - even to the likes of Australia and Colombia who also have a rich cycling history. So Qatar? Well, it's almost unthinkable to some. If ever there was a crime in cycling tradition, this would likely be it.
Many may think this is a little harsh - perhaps Qatar has a huge cycling fanbase to satisfy, perhaps they are on the cusp of a cycling revolution? Well, No. Not really. There isn't really anything for the public to 'support' over there - Qatar failed to qualify a single rider for the Worlds last year, there is no idolised rider, not even a single rogue. Still, everybody likes to line the roadside to watch the cycling don't they? Again, not really. In fact the Tour of Qatar is often noteworthy only because of its lack of scenery and more importantly to this point, lack of fans. The roadsides are overwhelmingly empty. The silence deafening. The crowd numbers have actually decreased in recent years and barring the odd local school trip or government officials most of the fans are expats from other parts of the world.
Qatar's Cycling Team Failed To Qualify For The 2012 Worlds.
What about the actual cycling in Qatar and are the roads packed full of bicycles? Again, no not really. There is the Qatar Cycling Federation which is the national governing body for the sport and is a member of the UCI and Asian cycling Confederation, but cycling at grass roots level doesn't appear to be thriving. There is a national team but the standard isn't great and hobby cyclists seem to be non-existent also. The one club of note in Qatar is the 'Qatar Chain Reaction' cycling club, based in Doha though this is almost - not by choice - exclusively a club for expatriates. The club made up of a whole host of nationalities, meets regularly for group rides into the desert as well as holding several events throughout the year including time trials. That's about as good as it gets and a lot of this is due to Qatar's roads and infrastructure. Dangerous traffic and lack of law enforcement coupled with no paths or bicycle lanes make riding a bike here uncomfortable. Add to that the dust, grit and debris carried onto the main roads from off-road vehicles and punctures become an issue, which would be fine in many places - a quick stop at the local bike shop will suffice - except if you want a puncture repair kit, new tyres or wheels out here, barring one poorly stocked shop in Doha, then shipping from Europe is the only real option.

UCI President Participates in the Presentation of the First Womens Tour of Qatar
A Race To Find Funding And Money?
So it's all about the money then? Largely, yes. Many of the big races were created to market something or somebody - even the Tour de France was created merely to sell newspapers! Qatar wants to be noticed, they want holiday makers to travel from around the world and spend their money their, they want businesses to invest in the continued growth and industrialisation of the country. Quite how much a cycle race can do to achieve this is a different matter and Qatar is hardly in need of the money. According to a recent list published by Forbes magazine the country is the wealthiest in the world. Of course like anything, if people have the money to spend, they will spend it. Income and revenue works both ways too and the UCI are desperately trying to cash in. In 2011 45.3% of the UCI's total revenue came by way of the World Road Race Championships - a huge amount. It's an investment for the UCI that creates a lot of cash with very minor overhead costs. Is this something to moan about? Well if the money received by the UCI from holding the World Championships in Qatar is put to good use in the form of investing in anti-doping and women's cycling then no, I would gladly see the cheque cashed. We all know that the sport is in need of investment and sponsorship and that many races (looking at Spain here) are struggling to stay financially viable - the money that places like Qatar represent is greatly needed but there will always be a conflicting opinion - are we raking in the cash whilst neglecting the very foundations and traditions of the sport? Getting this right is a very thin line to draw.

1 comment:

  1. can pro cyclist join your club if yes what's required