About this time last year I can remember watching a questionable internet stream of the Tour of Qatar. The race crossed the desert and there was little to see except the tarmac and the riders. Maybe you’d get a junction every half hour or perhaps a section of roadworks. If you were lucky you’d spot a gas well. Spectators looked absent. Even the finish line, bordered by barriers and banners, looked as barren as the desert. Despite the Gulf heat, I was left cold.
Yet the race is increasingly becoming an important part of the cycling calendar. Before you leap to the comments in outrage, stay with me.
- The warm weather is ideal for riders looking for race miles. There’s almost no chance of suffering from cold and rain.
- The long straight roads are ideal for riders that have lost a little bit of their bunch riding skills. There’s no manic street furniture to provoke a crash.
- The desert is often windy and this gives teams an ideal chance to practice riding together in a crosswind.
- The lack of crowds and the lighter media attendance eases the pressure, it gives the likes of Tom Boonen an easier start into the season.
What I’m saying is that the race is ideal for the riders and teams involved although the excitement is limited for spectators and TV viewers. There is a little bit of sponsor interest, I’m sure Garmin wants to sell satnavs to the Qataris and that Quick Step might be interested in the huge construction schemes under way and so on.
|Oh man I’d love to ride in Oman
Then comes the Tour of Oman. It’s not in the desert, the country has mountains that are almost as big as the Pyrenees. The race doesn’t take the highest roads but long drags and some climbs are on the menu, meaning a further test after Qatar. Plus the scenery is more appealing to the TV viewer, especially those of us still enduring the European winter.
Prologue for the Classics
Qatar is like a prologue to the spring classics. If the desert is the antithesis of Flanders in March, we can nevertheless begin to learn lessons about which teams are working well already, who is already feeling confident and those that have more work to do.