The branch of maths called algebra gets its name from al jabr, Arabic for “reunifying broken parts”. The Tour of Dubai certainly offers formulaic racing where each day the breakaway is reunited with the peloton for an inevitable sprint finish.
Is there another sport where next to nothing happens for hours only for furious action in final seconds? This isn’t new to cycling fans but the Tour of Dubai seems to embody this concept. Perhaps this is a race that nobody is supposed to watch anyway?
Once upon a time Giro stages were ridden gently until the TV cameras were switched on for the final 90 minutes when the action began, or so the story goes. Plenty of races have their dull moments but you can tune in to watch Milan-Sanremo and enjoy the scenery as the race sashays around the Gulf of Genoa with its azure seas, pastel houses and an imaginary Ramsey Lewis soundtack. Even before last year’s novelty of showing all the Tour de France stages in their entirety on TV there were plenty of boring sprint stages but you could still tune in to hear about the stories in and around the race or see France in the height of summer complete with chateaux and displays from farmers. With the Tour of Dubai there’s little to watch and likely few people watching. It’s not a ratings hit and good luck finding it beyond a specialist sports channel like Eurosport. It’s not without interest, but typically the action only gets visible within the final ten kilometres and this is for those (bloggers, blog readers et al) searching for clues about team tactics and sprint trains. Otherwise the story of the day’s racing – perhaps the week – for the general public could be compressed into an animated GIF.
What to do? Maybe they could have several intermediate sprints a day in order to reward the breakaways more… but the UCI limits these to three per stage and stipulates time bonuses to 3-2-1 seconds leaving little to experiment with. If you do want to follow the race the best way is to read dispatches from the race as written accounts allow for hindsight and a synthesis of the day’s events, to get quotes from the riders and review how their sprints fared.
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But do we need to watch or read about the race? As explained here before RCS took €4.5 million in revenue (revenue, not profit) from the Dubai Tour back in 2014 compared to €3 million for the Belfast and Dublin grande partenza. In other words this short race in Dubai is 50% more lucrative than the well-trumpeted foreign start of a grand tour (NB Israel is paying a lot more) so it works out well for the promoters. Dubai gets to import the peloton just as it welcomes visiting orchestras or luxury shops, it is literally buying in a cultural agenda for locals, ex pats and tourists alike. It’s also good for the teams and participants who get to race in warm weather and on wide road, safe conditions ahead of the Belgian farm tracks with their muddy patina and once the race is done there’s a a return journey to the same luxury hotel for the week so you can see why the riders enjoy it.
It’s not a captivating race for viewers but are the public supposed to watch? File this one under business. Teams get to hone their sprint drills, riders get some racing in the legs under warm sunshine and in a luxury in the evening while the organiser gets a fistful of petrodollars and the hosts have the circus in town for a week. It be minus the spectators but everyone else gains. Meanwhile in Colombia…