An unqualified success that blooms like a desert rose admidst tales of woe and misery …..
Tour of Qatar – courtesy ASO
An Unqualified Success
At a time when cycling racing only seems to get negative press, be it the latest dopage scandal, or the most recent fall out between organisers and administrators, it is worth singing the praises of a race that contiues to grow both in stature as a spectacle and also promotes cycling in a positive manner.
Legend has it that Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al Thani was watching the Tour de France and was inspired to try and stage Qatar’s own race. No better person to ask the best way forward than Eddy Merckx, the sport's greatest champion, so in 2001 officials asked Merckx for help through another Belgian in the court of the emir.
Merckx put them in touch with ASO the organizers of the Tour de France and the Tour of Qatar began in 2002.
Talking to The Peninsula On Line
Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al Thani, President of the Qatar Cycling Federation (QCF) was encouraged and pleased with this years edition.
“This year’s Tour of Qatar was special in many ways. First, we staged the Team Trial race, something that we had not done in the past. Secondly, we saw the Doha Team complete the race with an impressive time. Thirdly, our race was beamed live across many countries of the world.”
Sheikh Khaled said the Tour of Qatar was watched by fans in most of Europe, parts of Africa and in Australia via television screens across the globe.
“I would say the Tour of Qatar has attained a special place in the hearts of all those associated with cycling. You saw far more extensive television coverage than the previous editions. I was told more than 6,000 articles were written about our Tour last year. I am sure the figure would be much higher this year,” Sheikh Khaled added. He said he was satisfied with the performance of Doha Team, which comprised of cyclists from Bahrain and the UAE besides the local riders.
“Two years ago we fielded a team called Al Jazeera. They could not complete the race, but this year it was a different story as our riders showed a much improved performance. I am sure we will keep on improving in future also.
Doha Team riders completed all the six stages and the Team’s manager Ahmed Al Hemaidi was happy with his riders.
“Our target was to complete all the six stages and we have succeeded. I am happy with the riders and their performance,” Al Hemaidi said.
“There is a lot of interest shown by youngsters in the country. Currently, we are staging different cycling events for young people who are keen to take up the sport. We have been busy with promoting cycling in schools for the last two or more years,” Sheikh Khaled added.
Also talking to The Peninsula On Line the cycling legend is hoping to see more cycling devolpment in the Middle East
“It would be pleasing to see more cycling events in the region because weather-wise, Middle East is perfect for cycling. It is warm and sunny at this time of the year. I think other countries should follow Qatar’s lead in popularising the sport in the region,” Merckx said.
“The best way to promote a sport is by staging a great event, which Qatar does, and the second trick is to help youngsters get involved in the sport. And the best way to go about that is by taking your chosen sport to schools. Qatar is actively doing that too.
“Just recently, Qatar Cycling Federation (QCF) was actively taking part in “Wheels n Heels” programme, which went a long way in helping youngsters take interest in cycling. It was pleasing to see so many youngsters turn out at the gathering,” Merckx, voted by the UCI as the best cyclist in the 20th century, said.
“I think Qatar can produce good cyclists. This year (local participant) Doha Team completed the race in good time. That’s a big plus for the Qatar Cycling Federation, which is working hard in popularising the sport in the country,” Merckx added.
Winner of four World Championships in his heyday, the 66-year-old Merckx said this year’s Tour of Qatar was probably the best ever in terms of viewing excitement.
“There were a lot of good cyclists this year. They were much fitter compared to previous years and that’s why we saw great times. I guess, since it is the start of the new season all the cyclists were in best shape and we were bound to see great excitement.
“We didn’t see that many drop-outs either. It was a great event staged with a lot of fervour and passion. I think Qatar Cycling Federation deserves a big pat on the back for organising such a fantastic Tour,” the Belgian said.
And very few people would argue with Eddy!