A 67km cycling circuit located next to one of Dubai's main roads has opened to a firework display and grand celebrations – including a one-off exhibition race over a kilometre that gave Alberto Contador his first ‘victory’ of 2013 over Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal and Astana’s new star signing, Vincenzo Nibali. World time trial champion Tony Martin, meanwhile, took on a race horse – and lost. Plans have also been announced for the inaugural Dubai Tour next year, which will be the third major stage race in the region.
Qatar and Oman now both host high-profile stage races, in both cases hosted in association with Tour de France organisers ASO, but its Giro d’Italia owners RCS Sport who have been chosen to collaborate on the race in Dubai that will have its first edition, held over three or four days, in 2014. The leader’s jersey has been designed by Italian fashion house Versace, reports the website Emirates247.com.
Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirated (UAE) officially opened the Dubai Cycling Course yesterday. The sheikh is best known in sport for his ownership and breeding of racehorses – his maroon and white colours, closely resembling an Arsenal football jersey, have been ridden to victory in some of the biggest races in Britain and abroad.
At the track’s inauguration, Rashid Al Kamali, head of marketing and communication of the Dubai Sports Council, said: "Dubai always does things in the best manner possible and I assure you that the Dubai Tour will be a force. It will be something greater than what's been seen anywhere else in the world.
“For the first time we will host a world-class cycling championship under the calendar of the UCI (International Cycling Union) with the Dubai Tour in 2014. This event will attract the elite cyclists of the world and will also allow us to showcase the beauty of Dubai.
"This is the first international standard cycling track (in UAE). It was not meant for racing but for family. But this was just to show that we are serious about cycling going forward from here," said Al Kamali.
"Cycling is an Olympic sport. Our objective is to create Olympic champions here in the UAE and we would like to create the next Alberto Contador, Ryder Hesjedal or Vincenzo Nibali. That's our long term goal. We've got to create the environment for that to happen, so the races are important, academies and creating the want from children to get into cycling," he added.
The new circuit, which is aimed primarily at families, will also give elite cyclists a safe environment to train on in the city, which has an ingrained car culture.
As well as the 67 kilometre track – 9 kilometres of which form a looping circuit – there is also a new museum showcasing classic and modern bicycles, sports gear and accessories, shops for renting bikes, a sports clinic and restaurants and shops.
"It was only one kilometre but hard and fast for the first week of January,” reflected Contador after seeing off the challenge of Nibali and Hesjedal in the one-kilometre exhibition race. “It feels good to win but I think the more important thing is that cycling has come alive in Dubai.
"I think it [the Dubai Tour] be a beautiful race,” he went on. “They could include a team time trial, an individual time trial and of course for the sprinters there are lots of roads. I don't know about the mountain, maybe next year they will have built a one-kilometre mountain. If it's in the first part of the year it could be good for training for the rest of the season.
Nibali added: “In Dubai we have seen all sports being held and it is nice to see that cycling too will make its mark soon. It is a good start right away by deciding to bring in top stars.
“Dubai’s decision to embrace cycling is exciting news for cyclists around the world and I am sure all the top riders will be here in 2014 for the event.”
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.