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Breakaway Specialist

Dubai is fast becoming a leading destination for professional cycling events. Kevin Roberts looks at why, and its aspirations for the Dubai Tour event.

The Dubai Sports Council is considering extending the format of its Dubai Tour professional cycling event and seeking a place on the UCI (International Cycling Union) World Tour programme, after the success of last month’s four-stage event, won by Britain’s Mark Cavendish.

Organised in conjunction with Italian promoter RCS Sport, the Dubai Tour attracted some of the sport’s top names, who rolled into town to compete over more than 600 gruelling kilometres, against the ever-changing background of one of the world’s most futuristic cityscapes.

From the bustling waterside race village at the epicentre of the event, to leaders’ jerseys created by fashion design guru Paul Smith, Dubai reinforced its reputation for thinking differently about staging major
sports events.

Our challenge is to be one of the top races in the world

“The Dubai Tour has all the right credentials for a World Tour race. Cycling is growing here in a completely new manner,” says RCS Sport CEO Lorenzo Giorgetti. “The Dubai Sports Council is positioning the event at a high level and its image has nothing to do with the image of many other international events that have a much longer history.”

The challenge facing the organisers is to maintain the momentum and interest while adding more stages to the event, and Dubai Sports Council secretary general Saeed Hareb is confident that, in time, the city will succeed.

“Our challenge is to be one of the top races in the world,” Hareb told SportBusiness International. “There is no finish line in terms of what is possible and the overall dream. If we can organise four stages, it’s not difficult to do 10 or 12.”

The Gulf is fast becoming a spring-time hub for the cycling world and the success of the Dubai Tour appears to be having a top-down impact on the popularity of the sport and lifestyle in the Emirate.

According to Justin Abbott, strategic advisor at the UCI, the Dubai Tour is about more than just a professional cycle race, it is a race that is helping to fundamentally change Dubai’s relationship with the bicycle.

“The commitment of the authorities to lock-up the city centre is unusual among host cities, and it is very welcome because it allows cycling into the heart of Dubai,” he told SportBusiness International.

“Dubai has historically had a low usage of bicycles, but the Dubai Tour, coupled with investment in the cycling infrastructure around the city, is helping to change that for the better.

“It’s not all about people taking cars from one big building to another. The Dubai Tour helps integrate the bicycle into the vision for the future of Dubai – it demonstrates its pizzazz, its glamour and that cycling’s cool.

“That makes people think again about their views of cycling, and not only encourages them to watch professional race events, but also to start thinking about getting on a bike themselves.”

Andrew Croker, president of the media company Global Cycling Network, adds that professional cyclists love the Dubai Tour because it is well organised, it attracts good crowds and the event exemplifies growing interest in the sport in the Gulf.

“Dubai is becoming a real cycling hotspot,” he says. “Its cycle shops report amazingly good business and, thanks to the government’s decision to invest in infrastructure, there are some 158 kilometres of dedicated, well-maintained cycle roads that allow people to get on their bikes and get out of the city and into the desert and hills.

“It has a fantastic infrastructure for the sport, and I certainly expect local amateur events to grow in scale and stature in the years ahead, in addition to major international events.”

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