Qatar is the world’s wealthiest country on a per capita basis. Last year locals were worried for the state of the economy after it grew by a meagre 15%. No typo, that’s fifteen percent. Whilst most Europeans long for the day their economy expands by 1.5%, the Qataris get richer by the day.
The reason is primarily the prodigious oil and gas reserves that lie under the country’s sands and off its shores. There’s so much of this valuable resource that the country has gone from nomadic desert dwelling to the highest per capita income in the world in one century.
You haven’t come here to read about Arab wealth, nor oil and gas. But this wealth is the reason why the country has a cycle race starting tomorrow with the Ladies Tour of Qatar and then the Tour of Qatar for men on Sunday. Here’s a look at the race.
The race began in 2002 as a means for the country to publicise itself. In Qatari style it spent big. They hired ASO, the company that runs the Tour de France and picked none other than Eddy Merckx to act as consultant. These roles continue today.
Many races were launched for promotional reasons. Famously the Tour de France was launched to sell newspapers; other races are funded from the national or regional tourist budget. Qatar seems to be saying “we’re here” with the race, there is little marketing effort to entice the cyclist. Not that the country needs a bike race for publicity. It is very politically active in the region and the home of arabic news channel Al Jazeera (“the lighthouse”). That said many know the giant towers, malls and ongoing construction projects where imported labour toils under the fierce sun for modest pay but I suppose race shows the inland areas are accessible.
The country is flat, its highest point – if you exclude the skyscrapers – is 85 metres above sea level. So flat that the race organisers don’t even bother publishing altitude profiles for the race. This is a stage race for sprinters although the men’s edition has team time trial.
Better for riders than fans?
It’s not a great race to watch, there is little scenery and the action tends to come in the last ten minutes of a stage; although crosswinds and crashes do add to the drama. The attractions are greater for those taking part:
- First is the weather, competitors are almost guaranteed warm and sunny conditions; whilst Europe endures “Siberian” weather.
- The second reason is the weather too for the desert is windy. The prospect of crosswinds is an ideal tune-up for techniques ahead of the spring classics. Riders and teams can reacquaint themselves with riding in crosswind, only on long and relatively smooth roads. Drills can be practiced without the incessant street furniture more common in Europe.
- The last reason is the comfort of the race. Teams and the media alike are hosted in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in capital city Doha and enjoy five star luxury. A nice touch ahead of a season of European chain motels.
For all the country’s wealth the prize list looks modest. The total pot for the Ladies Tour is €18,680 with just €1,200 for the overall winner and €400 for first place on one of the three stages. The men fare better with €103,375 and €10,000 for the overall and €3615 for first place on one of the six stages.
Qatar is linked to many sporting ventures. It will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But it is also linked to the Tour de France. National airline Qatar Airways is a partner of the Tour de France and when Cadel Evans took yellow in Grenoble last year, he and the rest of the peloton flew on a Qatar Airways jet to Paris to start the final stage to the Champs Elysées. There is even talk of the Tour de France starting in Qatar one day. It might sound crazy but everything has a price.