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Beneath The Sands

The Abu Dhabi Tour is over and it’s been an event with as much politics and money as sand. This makes it all the more interesting, a poor race to watch but a rich one to ride. There are lessons to be learned, including some for established European races to take on board.

Let’s get the racing out of the way. Esteban Chaves won thanks to a well-timed attack on the mountain stage, profiting from Wout Poels’ crash on the final corner. As sporting spectacles go the Abu Dhabi Tour was poor. For the three flat stages the 5km to go banner offered relief rather than anticipation. Whether in the desert or the Formula 1 circuit the racing wasn’t easy to follow and the wide roads just gave repeat images of men pedalling bicycles at least the Yas Marina circuit had the finish line made narrow thanks to barriers to enhance the sense of speed. Still when three of the four stages could have a daily highlights packaged into an animated GIF it’s not been a compelling race. Stage 3’s summit finish was better but still formulaic.

Now this can happen anywhere, anytime and even Tour de France has its siesta moments too. Abu Dhabi has some structural headwinds:

  • Calendar: February’s Tour of Qatar isn’t many people’s preferred race but it sees very aggressive racing with the bunch fanned across the roads. Teams are prepping for the spring classics. They test out tactics and fight to establish an early season pecking order. It’s warm in a pleasant way too. Come October and there’s nothing beyond the Abu Dhabi Tour, it’s not worth fighting over
  • Climate: it’s very hot at this time of year with temperatures of 42°C for Stage 1. The distance was reduced… but partly because the speed was slow and the race director didn’t want a late finish. Journalists on the ground were saying temperatures were above the October average of 29°C but this number includes the night. The average daily maximum, ie the warmest point of the day, experienced when you have to race in the afternoon, is 38°C. This is borderline acceptable, it can be this warm in the Tour de France or Vuelta but it requires acclimatization… and a back-up plan in case it gets hotter
  • Geography: to paraphrase Antoine Blondin cycling is first and foremost a matter of geography. Paris-Roubaix would be equally boring if the race took the main road instead of the cobbled farmtracks. Holding races on featureless roads makes for dull racing. The same with a Formula 1 circuit that’s designed for exciting racing at 250km/h. Without some better features the racing will always struggle to thrill

The locals literally sit on top of billions of petrodollars and are trying to find ways to spend it. Part of the plan is to create events so that the world comes to town. As well as visiting sport events orchestras come to town, art galleries hold exhibitions and so on. But cycling seems the odd one out. Open your wallet and Usain Bolt, Manchester United, the Berlin Symphony or the Guggenheim will all jet in and do what they usually do. But flying in some cyclists isn’t enough, a good race needs more ingredients than strong startlist. To exaggerate absurdly to make the point you can’t hold the Ski World Cup in Abu Dhabi. Importing a stellar peloton isn’t sufficient to ensure a great race and no amount of money will solve this.

Now For The Good News
If it can’t fix the geography, it can attend to many other things. First the race was hyped on Twitter thanks to coordinated work by teams, RCS and the UCI to promote the event. It felt overdone but looks strong compared to the feeble promotion behind many other races. If only the UCI could back its own premium calendar this way, for example they issued many tweets for Abu Dhabi, a 2.1 status race, but typed just one tweet for the World Tour’s GP Québec.

The event also makes riders feel valued and celebrates like the international sporting stars they are. For many pros travel to a race means a Ryanair connection. For Abu Dhabi it’s Business Class. There are blingy medals for all participants, the winners get trophies akhbar and everyone stays in a luxury hotel. It’s a far cry from checking into the two star Campanile outside Chartres where grey chicken, grated carrots and overcooked pasta probably await. The accommodation issue was bubbling away during the Tour de France and needs to be solved, logistics permitting. If not then riders and teams will make their choices accordingly at times during the season.

RCS earns over a million Euros a day for the 4-day Dubai Tour

Sheikh-down?
The more discreet aspect is money changing hands. We don’t know the sums involved in Abu Dhabi but RCS’s new Dubai Tour earned the Italian company €4.5 million, astonishing for a four day pre-season stage race as this means it’s almost as lucrative as the World Championships or a Tour de France grand départ. Presumably Abu Dhabi is on similar terms.

Software developers talk of a “sandbox” as a place to test code in isolation. It seems the desert is a proving a sandbox for new ways of running the sport too. As pointed out regularly on here the Giro d’Italia is suffering from the lack of star riders and Alberto Contador’s failure to do the Giro-Tour double is only going to compound this. What to do? Well RCS has signed a deal with the Velon so that its teams commit to riding Abu Dhabi for the next three years. Now this is redundant if the race is promoted to the World Tour but the deal is also about sending big names to the race in return for money. It doesn’t make much difference today but could this be the Giro’s saving: Velon acts a talent agency that RCS pays to reserve big names for its races? If it’s riders that Abu Dhabi is paying for then their agents and union should be collecting the money, not their teams. Under the current deal what the share goes to team owners and what to riders isn’t public.

Sheikh, your money maker

Late last year this blog suggested Velon and the UCI should arrange an awards ceremony. What wasn’t suggested was the blurred lines and conflicts of interest. The UCI’s role in all of this is curious as it’s working with RCS and Abu Dhabi to create the new end-of-season “gala” and presumably (hopefully?) getting some income from licencing its gala, rankings and more to RCS and Abu Dhabi. All well and good but it’s trampling on some toes. When Brian Cookson attended the presentation of the 2016 Giro last week he said “there is just one event remaining on the professional calendar” in Abu Dhabi, ignoring Paris-Tours, the Giro dell’Emilia and several other late season races which pay the UCI for a licence. A simple mistake by his speech-writer or a slip that reveals the UCI’s infatuation with this new race? It seems probable the race will join the World Tour in 2016 – curiously it’s not listed anywhere on the otherwise full 2016 calendar yet. Either way it’d be helpful to have a genuine closing race and the gala once all the other races have actually been concluded. The evening itself needs improvement, especially as it seemed to be all about men’s road cycling and the UCI is mandated (and paid millions) by the IOC to uphold its charter promoting gender equality. The evening had a the feel of an event run according to RCS’s radar than the fundamental principles of the UCI. The UCI say the women couldn’t make it but even the awards list is biased with 13 awards for men compared to five for women. Easy to fix for 2016.

Even in the desert heat there’s the cold war between ASO, RCS, the UCI, the Velon teams and others. It rarely breaks to the surface but behind the scenes there’s been a lot of animosity as groups scrabble for control and money. Conspiracy theorists will note RCS and the UCI collaborating on this new event on the very same weekend as ASO’s Paris-Tours. A deliberate way to drain off riders from the French classic and undermine ASO’s asset? Perhaps but it’s also reflective of a crowded calendar: several World Tour races run simultaneously so it’s all part of cycling’s jumbled calendar and this is incremental.

Summary
It’s great to share the sport around the world and allow participants to earn more at the same time but cycle sport isn’t as easy to export as an athletics meet or a football match. The desert is beautiful for its open space but watching the peloton riding through the Rub’ al Khali doesn’t work as a sports broadcast and the lack of action means the racing won’t command a premium for the sale of the broadcast rights.

Still the race has tried its best to promote itself and even the UCI has been onboard. Getting teams to coordinate and promote upcoming races can only help. As can making the riders and teams feel like VIPs, the biggest races in Europe need to work harder to make participants feel valued and the gala idea is fine but it’d be better if the UCI upheld its role.

The race has also been about the things we can’t see on TV or roadside. Just as this region has sterile deserts and calm seas which hide huge wealth in 9% of the world’s oil reserves, the dull racing can mask the prodigious dealmaking and handshaking happening behind the scenes. It’ll be interesting to see if RCS and Velon widen this deal to include other races, possibly the Giro.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tim Print Monday, 12 October 2015, 5:20 pm

    “First the race was hyped on Twitter thanks to coordinated work by teams, RCS and the UCI to promote the event.”

    Not sure that’s always a good thing. When Cav tweets about how gutted he is to be missing it for the tenth time, I just think ‘He must be getting a good wedge to keep tweeting about this’ not ‘Wow, this is going to be an amazing race’. It’s in October, in a desert. We’re not idiots. You can’t just hype anything up, there has to be some substance.

    Or am I being too cynical?

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 12 October 2015, 5:28 pm

      I suspect many readers here feel the same. But he’s got millions of followers and the more casual sports fan will take notice of this new race.

      • BenW Monday, 12 October 2015, 5:46 pm

        I greatly enjoyed wandering into a central London cycling coffee shop on Saturday and seeing the World Cup Rugby Union on the giant projector screen.

        “Not showing the fascinating Abu Dhabi tour then?”
        “No, we’re here to sell coffee not to send people to sleep.”

        • Special Eyes Monday, 12 October 2015, 7:33 pm

          Stage 3 on the Saturday was pretty good actually !

          • Tovarishch Monday, 12 October 2015, 7:50 pm

            Doubt it was better than the rugby.

          • Special Eyes Monday, 12 October 2015, 8:08 pm

            It was if you’re English !

        • ArgyllFlyer Monday, 12 October 2015, 9:51 pm

          Despite AD being very boring, it was not the most boring broadcast of the season. That (for me anyway) was Tour of Almaty which seemed to consist of going one way up a motorway then back down the other side. To add to the immense dullness it was won by a solo breakaway (that young Kazak fellow for Astana) from about 25km out. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

          • BenW Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 5:22 pm

            Ha! I’m quite relieved I hadn’t seen any of that race! Sounds to me like clanking USSR-era propaganda, “behold our wonderous motorways”

          • ArgyllFlyer Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 9:08 pm

            BenW: when the nights are long, the days short and the cycling’s not on telly (i.e. the next 2 months)… you may be drawn to the Tour De Motorway!

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFq3V-itJ7o

      • Tim Print Monday, 12 October 2015, 5:50 pm

        That’s possible but not necessarily a good thing for cycling in general. Watching that is likely to put a casual fan off for life. I’m a massive cycling fan and I don’t really want to watch it.

        • Nick Monday, 12 October 2015, 6:12 pm

          Perhaps the point is that the UCI, teams and organisers should also be seeking to do this for the other races too, so that potential fans know what is on and when.

    • Larz Monday, 12 October 2015, 5:48 pm

      I was really surprised at the level of attention on this race, given it’s mere cat. 2.1 status and some very dull dusty desert roads. Of course the fine riders in the peloton and the award ceremony created attention but still…

      For example, I noticed how much attention the race was given by the fine guys from GCN. Nothing bad against them, but it seems like they had been specially invited for the occasion.

      The race up Jebel Hafeet was fine. Otherwhise an incredibly dull race, and no hype can change that.

      • The Inner Ring Monday, 12 October 2015, 6:17 pm

        GCN belongs to Shift Active Media which is contracted to run RCS’s race PR so there’s bound to be lots on this race, the Giro etc.

        • Larz Monday, 12 October 2015, 6:31 pm

          Thanks.

          Wasn’t aware of that. Just never seen them do that kind of work, for what is a small race (in terms of category).

    • lee kaliski Monday, 12 October 2015, 6:55 pm

      “I am being too cynical?” …. No, you most definitely are not.

    • Anonymous Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 2:38 pm

      I also thought – he’s just had a new baby, why is wandering off to the Gulf to watch a boring race? Ah yes, that large cheque to pay for the new nursery wing

  • Bilmo Monday, 12 October 2015, 5:52 pm

    My 2 pence worth is that this end of season race could serve a useful purpose with a bit of work.

    Firstly let’s ignore the idea that it will become some sort of race to match Paris-Roubaix or The Tour. It doesn’t need to be. It should be a glossy end of season parade with a chance to show off the big name riders to the wider world. The competition doesn’t have to be of the highest quality, it should fill the role of the traditional post Tour Crits for the 21st century

    Below are just a few of my suggestions:

    Host it this week after other races have finished,
    Men and Women’s events of the same number and length,
    An ITT and TTT – why not show off your newly crowned champions,
    Expand live onboard footage – the race circuit is good for this and they probably just need to barrier out a few more narrow sections and turns,
    Finish with the awards ceremony and as Inrng say ensure a equal spread of awards,
    The awards could even finish with some entertainment event (as naff as most opening/closing ceremonies normally are) it all attracts TV coverage.

    None of this may be for traditionalist but they (including myself) don’t need this. We would watch cycling whatever but anyway to get new fans in has to be a good thing.

    • J Evans Monday, 12 October 2015, 9:25 pm

      I don’t think cycling really needs new fans.
      We constantly hear about a lack of money, etc., but who do we hear that from? The people who want to make money from the sport.
      Who is the loudest voice? Tinkov. And what long-term interest does he have in cycling?
      Cycling lacks sponsors at the moment, because of Armstrong. They’ll be back once that dies down.
      There is no reason to chase popularity just for popularity’s sake. And cycling is simply never going to be that popular.
      And money isn’t a good reason to do anything.
      Haven’t watched a second of Abu Dhabi and never will as long as it clashes with Paris-Tours.
      If casual fans watch AD, they’re likely to be bored out of their minds and switch off.
      People who are actually interested in cycling will probably do the same – but not if they watched P-T. That’s why P-T should be promoted, not AD.
      Why sell out, damage other races and indulge in cr@ppy razzamatazz?

      • Red Hare Monday, 12 October 2015, 10:21 pm

        No one has any long term monetary interest in cycling, at least, not at the WT level. Tinkov has put in several million euros per year into the sport for several years. Few fans can afford that, and I don’t fault him for not wanting to do it simply out of the goodness of his heart.

        Even the race organisers don’t have real money sunk in for more than 2-3 years ahead. The fans might have some interest as spectators, but they’re what the race organisers are monetising, so if you don’t get new fans somewhere (waiting for them to naturally appear is probably a losing strategy in the long run given European demographics), then cycling dies a slow death anyway. You can’t wait for the Armstrong taint to fade either since he’s likely to live another 40 years at least. It’s been 5 years since he retired, half the lifetime of an average team, yet he still shadows the sport in some way. It’s a long time to go with slim pickings.

        I feel all this hectic fund-raising, commercialisation and expansion into new markets probably won’t move cycling beyond what it currently is – a niche sport followed by a minority – but if it didn’t take place World Tour cycling might have died somewhere in the mid-2000s. It’s not so long ago that people talked of the ‘sixth monument’ or that there were more than 3 three-week stage races.

        Personally, I like good races, and don’t mind so much what the traditions are. I also don’t have this silly white man’s burden about whether nasty countries should be allowed to host bike races. I’m honest enough to acknowledge that what I do like to see costs money to host, and costs more money as the years go by, and that I’m not going to be paying for it besides from a step removed (in television subscriptions, in bike kit etc). All in all, it’s a pretty good deal.

        • Anonymous Monday, 12 October 2015, 11:30 pm

          ‘I also don’t have this silly white man’s burden about whether nasty countries should be allowed to host bike races.’ – An extraordinary approach to ethics. Lucky you not having to put up with such a burden as a conscience.

        • J Evans Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:21 am

          ‘– but if it didn’t take place World Tour cycling might have died somewhere in the mid-2000s’. How would that have happened? Why would the Belgians, French, Italians, Spaniards, Dutch, etc., etc. have suddenly decided to stop watching the sport they’ve watched for decades?

      • Hammarling Monday, 12 October 2015, 10:22 pm

        I literally cannot think of a single sport that has too many fans. Cycling can have more fans, more fans the better for a whole heap of reasons least of which is that it would be more attractive to sponsors.

        We hear of a lack of money constantly from teams. How many times was Europcar been scraping through because it can’t get backing? How many teams have folded due to a lack of funding, most recently Colombia? Cycling needs more money, but perhaps the type of money a race like Abu Dhabi generates is not the right money (in that it doesn’t seem to go where it’s needed). Without sponsors there is no pro cycling and a great way to get sponsors is to get popular.

        But i do agree that a race like Paris-Tours will do 100x more good than an Abu Dhabi. Paris-Tours was awesome, AD was dull af. Doesn’t mean AD is the death of cycling. ‘Selling Out’ isn’t the death of cycling either.

        • Bilmo Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 12:54 am

          Hammarling, I totally agree you can never have too many fans.
          If a razzmatazz event in the desert attracts one person to cycling it’s a good thing. We talk about getting money to the sport but coverage brings awareness and that’s the most important. More fans mean more young riders and the more young riders the greater chance of another Merckx (or Armstrong in terms of coverage pre scandal!!)
          Great riders make great races and this in turn would bring more fans and then more money.
          Making a good show of an end of season event is just one of many things along with better promotion and coverage of races (including Paris-Tours for example) and many others things that have been discussed here before, that would improve the sport for all.

      • Vitus Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 3:59 am

        Even if cycling needs new fans, Abu Dhabi would be the last thing that will attract new fans. Nobody watching riders race through a desert oil state thinks ‘hey, this is a fascinating sport, I gonna watch more of it’

        • Brian Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 8:07 am

          But what if you live in desert oil state and the race sparks the imagination and one comes to think that, “hey, if they can do it, I can do it”?

        • J Evans Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:12 am

          Precisely.
          And the locals have no interest either.

          • J Evans Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:18 am

            ‘Precisely’ was for Vitus’s point.
            This race is solely about cash – and shame on the UCI for wh-ring itself out to help promote it.
            It’s not going to bring new fans to the sport or provide any other benefit.
            And it’s all happening at the expense of other, much better, races, which might attract more fans.
            Making cycling more popular would be a good thing: my point above is that it is far from the most important thing that cycling needs to do.
            And that this isn’t the way to do it.
            Persuading the public that cycling is clean would have a far greater effect. Promoting good races, not garbage, would also help.
            The likes of Velon et al are using the ‘we need to make cycling more popular’ as an excuse to try to gain themselves more money and more power – and thus more money.

  • james Monday, 12 October 2015, 7:15 pm

    I find it weird how cycling compares itself to F1 especially as F1 is in a mess! The middle eastern F1 races are boring as hell and the stands are empty too. I despair that cycling is copying F1 in chasing oil money

    • M Monday, 12 October 2015, 7:22 pm

      On this point, I note that the Yas Marina circuit is host to the last F1 race of the season: clearly Abu Dhabi enjoys being the closer to a sport’s year.

      • Hammarling Monday, 12 October 2015, 9:36 pm

        Best way to guarantee a big spotlight on your event, make it the season ending one. Not that that is a bad thing as some others have said here. A big glittering finale to the main road season (lets ignore the Oceanic, Asian and South American races that run through our European Autumn and winter) is no bad thing to me.

        Just that it needs to be more about the UCI doing good than RCS or Velon or Abu Dhabi splashing the cash for the sake of notoriety.

        • BenW Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 5:33 pm

          Ah, you say that but being the season-ender only has relevance if there’s anything anyone cares about at stake.

          By this time, the Grand Tours are done, so are the World’s; the Spring Classics are about as close to starting again as their previous finish is. There’s no promotion or relegation for WT teams; most of the big rider moves have been made and in any case we can’t see them in new kit until New Year; and so on. Most people express indifference at the Team and Rider Rankings – there is nothing of any consequence going on, so it’s a pointless race at the wrong time of year.

          F1 makes sense because many seasons go down to the last race to be decided, even if it’s mathematical possibility rather than genuine chance, so there’s something to watch. Abu Dhabi tour is another oil-sloshed white elephant.

    • Larry T. Monday, 12 October 2015, 10:27 pm

      Thanks for pointing this out. I’ve been saying this for years. It all seems to be just a money grab. Using F1 or MOTOGP as examples of what do is stupid, it just means guys like F1’s Bernie Ecclestone end up filthy rich while low end F1 teams struggle against bankruptcy. MOTOGP usually has just 4 or 5 guys who can win on any given Sunday, same with F1 while each series has seen traditional races in countries where the fans are passionate about the sport get ditched in favor of boring races in countries run by corrupt governments or controlled by petro-sheiks. Starting grids get smaller, races get dull and fan interest wanes. But Velon and their ilk can’t wait to do this to pro cycling, aided and abetted by the UCI and the social-media mavens at RCS. The problems in the motor sports were for years covered up by the massive investment of the tobacco industry. Pro cycling’s using petro-dollars for the same purpose. When the petro-sheiks tire of these sandbox races, then what? Real cycling fans get cheated and does anyone truly believe boring “races” around automotive circuits in the desert, no matter how juiced up with on-board video, will create enough new ones to sustain the sport?

    • Anonymous Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 1:44 pm

      Me too. And, slightly off topic but I was thinking about it the other day; Thank Goodness that we don’t have a team led by Alonso, the “spanish samurai”. That was, in hindsight, a ridiculous bit of never gonna happen. He’s becoming a cartoon character that makes Tinkov look absolutely sane.

  • Sam Monday, 12 October 2015, 7:49 pm

    Conspiracy theorists on the ASO-RCS-UCI-Velon battle might also note the absence of any representation from ASO at the end-of-year-celebrations-of-all-things-cycling shindig. And no David Lappartient, who cried off with a note from his maman. Or something.

    • J Evans Monday, 12 October 2015, 9:20 pm

      ASO don’t need to partake in this garbage.
      They have the Saitama Criterium.

      • ArgyllFlyer Monday, 12 October 2015, 9:48 pm

        LOL, and unbelieveably Eurosport transmit it live too. Pointless deader than a dead duck dead rubber.

  • Martijn Monday, 12 October 2015, 8:08 pm

    “Software developers”

    Talking of software developers: there’s another place in the world where they have almost as much money as in the Gulf States with the added bonus of a good climate and geography for cycling and interest in the sport: Silicon Valley. Of course there’s the Tour of California and that’s already pretty big, but imho the focus on those tours is one of the mistakes with all these new races; one day races are usually way more exciting and easier to organize. Think of a race that usea San Francisco’s Lombard Street: that could be an instant classic.

    • dontcoast Monday, 12 October 2015, 9:14 pm

      Absolutely agree there needs to be more world class racing in California: the terrain and weather are phenomenal, and there is a healthy cycling culture.

      On the flip side, in the gulf states the people with the money who want the racing literally also write the rules and run the whole show. Not so much in Cali.

      While a lot of silicon valley techies with fleets of superbikes would probably love a world tour race in their backyard, getting around road closures and NIMBY-ism of american car culture, insurance and permitting, underfunded local governments, crappy road surface etc. would not be easy.

      And the silicon valley techies also probably carefully research their projected ROI’s in dollars rather than prestige…cycling might not be the best value to them.

      Anyways, I still agree that something like a world tour “central coast classic” could be incredible. Throw in some dirt roads for extra fun.

      And Oh yeah Lombard St a few km from the finish!!!

    • S Monday, 12 October 2015, 9:20 pm

      Yes – been there, done that…. The San Francisco Grand Prix – was a fun race to watch, it would be good race to have again.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eMIq-vfPKY
      http://www.sanfrangrandprix.com/index_content.asp or wikipedia for more

      In the US – cycling is often referred to as the new golf – Well appreciated by some of the fit well off crowd. Silicon Valley could easily support a race – for that point many teams – as the global market is a good fit – if someone decided to take it that way. (Thomas Weisel was an SV insider and cycling supporter- but that timing and focus ended up being wrong.)

      SV, is an example – one could easily argue that Seattle, San Diego, Boston, NY and many others could support enthusiastic races… with interesting terrain.

      Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo – just had 6000 participants – and Jens Voigt just ran one a week later a few miles down the road likely with thousands more… so there is support in Northern California.

      Travel is relevant – it is a long way for a couple of races.

  • Anonymous Monday, 12 October 2015, 8:30 pm

    Its simply not true that Abu Dhabi was a kind of world premiere for the use of live onboard cams. They did use it extensively in London Surrey Race

    • ArgyllFlyer Monday, 12 October 2015, 9:49 pm

      Saw the whole broadcast and don’t recall that at all?

      • Hammarling Monday, 12 October 2015, 10:27 pm

        Yep. Some very good up close Moto work but no onboard cameras as i can recall. Just checked Youtube and didn’t see anything come up including them either.

        Onboard cams are a great idea though. Used sparingly i think they provide another uniqe angle on the action but have very limited use in telling the story of the race as cameras are supposed to do. A great analytical tool for sprints finishes, i think they’ve got much more value outside of the live broadcast.

    • Adam Bowie Monday, 12 October 2015, 10:28 pm

      To be fair, they’ve been saying that it was the first *men’s* race to have live onboard cameras. And as far as I know it probably was.

      However the first race to have live cameras was actually the RideLondon Women’s Grand Prix around St James’ Park, the day before the London Surrey Classic. That used live cameras – not extensively – but they were on a couple of bikes. As in Dubai, that was possible because of the limited length of the course enabling good transmission.

      The next day’s race was more interesting for the fact that the BBC put David Millar on a Moto, and very entertaining he was too. Although I’m sure that many moons ago Channel 4 put Allan Peiper on a bike too!

  • MultiplexRant Monday, 12 October 2015, 8:51 pm

    As Bilmo says, this kind of terrain is crying out for a bit of time-trialling. That would mitigate (a bit) the ‘boring terrain’ issue.

    Imagine a fat bike time trial up a sand dune! Oh no – that was stage one of the Vuelta…

  • Richard S Monday, 12 October 2015, 10:40 pm

    I agree with just about every comment on here. The Abu Dhabi Tour was pure dross. For a cycling fan it’s a repulsive money making exercise. To a none cycling fan it’s a cure for insomnia. It’s shit on so many levels – the lack of any geography worth looking at, featureless roads, totally inappropriate weather, no local interest, no local amateur level racing – that if it were anywhere but slap bang on top of a huge oil field the idea would be laughed at. But they have money so everyone will run there and embarrass themselves saying how great it is. It’s all a bit nausiating. Fair play for you inrng for trying to drum up some positives but I’m not buying it.

    I’ll echo somebody else’s comment above; why do all these new races have to be stage races. If you have in your whole country one interesting geographical feature why not just hold a one day race?! Save thumbing around in a desert for 3 days. One day races are generally more exciting anyway. And, don’t hold your horribly dull talent drain on a weekend where there are already 2 HC one day races.
    Oh yeah and while where here let’s not pretend this has anything at all to do with widening the appeal of cycling. That would be expanding and holding races in places where the sport is actually popular but is under represented with races. I.e Australia, North America, Colombia and maybe even South Africa.

  • J Evans Monday, 12 October 2015, 11:27 pm

    Surely, Inner Ring, a missed pun opportunity: ‘Blazing Saddles’ was there for the taking.

  • Ronin Monday, 12 October 2015, 11:33 pm

    Inring writes, “the UCI is mandated (and paid millions) by the IOC to uphold its charter promoting gender equality.” Given the way the term “gender equality” is used by many in this sport and in the more broader, especially Anglo-Saxon population, this claim risks being utterly misleading if not false. The UCI Charter, Article 3, says the following.

    The UCI will carry out its activities in compliance with the principles of:
    a) equality between all the members and all the athletes, licence holders and officials,
    without racial, political, religious, or other discrimination;

    Gender isn’t even mentioned. Of course, we can assume it falls under “other discrimination”. So, here, all that’s stated is that the UCI is to carry out it’s activities in accordance with some principles of equality, and in such a way that it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender. No further exposition is offered. Likewise, the IOC’s charter, Chapter 1, Rule 2, paragraph 7 says, the IOC’s role is,

    7. to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all
    structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women;

    So, again, some principle of equality is invoked to govern the IOC. What is this principle of equality? the IOC doesn’t say. But, there is simply is no such thing as a single principle of equality, and no such thing as a single concept of equality. Over the last few hundred years, in the West, dozens of different principles of equality and their constituent concepts of equality have been articulated, analysed, and invoked in a variety of different social, legal, and political contexts. Claiming however, that the IOC and UCI are tasked to promote “gender equality”, given the narrow way this is term is used by many today, implies the UCI and IOC are committed to a specific, and in my view, pernicious, concept of equality that should play no role in the UCI’s governance of the sport.

    What is “gender equality” as commonly used today? It’s hard to say, because those who invoke gender equality in this sport never say themselves. But if you listen to the demands of those who invoke it, it would appear they take it to mean that women’s racing should have all the same stuff as men’s racing. Half the Road, right? Well, demanding half the road is demanding the same stuff: the same prize money, same salaries, same races or the same racing opportunities, the same amount of TV coverage, etc. They never say who’ll pay for this, nor do they seem to care what effects this will have on men’s racing.

    “Oh, that’s not gender equality. Gender equality demands the redress of inequalities between men and women, especially where those are the result of the misogynistic discrimination of the patriarchy.” Fine, define it as you wish, but THAT principle is surely not being employed in the UCI’s charter.

    No, the relevant principle of equality in this context is the venerable liberal principle of equality sometimes referred to with the phrase, “equal consideration of interests.” I.e., two people, or parties, are treated equally by some third party charged with treating people equally, e.g., the UCI, when the third party takes the legitimate interests of both into equal consideration. This is a subtle and sophisticated principle, requiring in its application the mediation of a wide array of other principles of justice or moral principles more generally. E.g., further principles are needed to separate out what is a legitimate as opposed to illegitimate interest and further principles are needed to regulate what he third party can and cannot do to promote the legitimate interest of a party. It’s proven in its effective application, consistency with our ordinary moral intuitions, and its ability to gain wide-acceptance, unlike dopey socialist principles that hold things are equal between two people when they have the same stuff, which have proven to lead to nothing but instability in just about every system they’re employed, if not also violence.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 12:18 am

      The IOC is big on gender equality. It forced the UCI to equalise its track programme which used to be heavily slated towards men’s events and now the women’s medals equal the haul the men can earn with keirin, omnium, sprint, team pursuit and team sprint events for both.

      • Sam Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 10:28 am

        And of course Hein and Pat rolled over and didnt fight for the actual number of events to increase so that parity could be obtained but without the loss of the IP (or Madison)

        Other sports governing bodies managed this when they had to bring in more womens events.

        But, oh no, not the UCI.

        • Nick Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:25 am

          Didn’t they make a conscious effort to take events away from the track, so that they could have MTB and BMX instead?

          “heavily slated towards” is an understatement by the way. Prior to 1984, there had been 111 men’s events, to 0 for women. After 1984, the score stood at 118 to 1. Perhaps this was the effective application of the more subtle and sophisticated version of equality in action?

    • Nick Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:26 am

      If one interest group is men, and another women, who are the independent third party?

    • J Evans Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:39 am

      I’m always amused when people claim that female riders should earn the same as the men. Pure pseudo-liberalism.
      Never mind the lack of interest in female cycling (so where is this money coming from?), the women don’t do the same job.
      You should get the same money for doing the same job.
      But the women do far fewer km and they do them more slowly.
      Paying them the same would be sexist – because the women would be receiving more money solely based on their gender.
      I’m not interested in women’s cycling for the same reasons I’m not interested in Continental level cycling – it’s because I’m not interested in lower levels of cycling.
      That doesn’t make me right; or wrong – it’s just what I like in cycling – but it’s not based on gender.
      (And yes, women’s cycling is a lower level – if you ignore gender and focus solely on the racing.)

      • HWSB Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 2:56 pm

        We’ve been here before J Evans.

        Women’s racing is not at a lower level than men’s. And that is not a subjective view.

        While you are watching the men’s racing, are you really paying attention to how fast they are going up a hill, or are you watching athletes compete with each other?

        Lizzie Armitstead’s Worlds win was incredible, nail-biting, exciting etc etc. I didn’t watch thinking, ‘well this is OK for tier-2 stuff’.

        Yes, men and women are different physically. But that does not mean that there is less enjoyment / passion / excitement to found in women’s racing.

        Personally, I enjoy watching women’s racing because I can see and relate more to the pain they go through . You can see the physical strain the race puts on them a lot more than with the men.

        • Richard S Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 4:14 pm

          As impressive as Armisteads win was, the finish was a bit slow motion. When you look at speeds from womens races and TT’s they aren’t a great deal faster than good amatuer level men’s races, if at all. Anyway, I would have thought it was completely irrelavant. How much they get paid is surely down to their teams. The teams will pay them how ever much they can afford and that will be down to how much they get through sponsorship. If a sponsor, say maybe Rabobank, decides that it gets a better return on womens racing through someone like Vos then she will be paid a representativly high figure I would have thought.

        • J Evans Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 10:57 pm

          HWSB, you say ‘Women’s racing is not at a lower level than men’s. And that is not a subjective view.’
          It objectively is a lower level.
          As ccotenj explains below: ‘“at the highest level possible by humans”… i don’t mean “at the highest level in their peer group”…’.
          To say that women’s racing is top racing, you have to factor in gender.
          If you ignore the gender of the riders, women’s racing is nowhere even close to being top racing.
          That’s why their WC is half the distance of the men’s – why would I watch a race that is half the distance of the best people? (If others want to; fine – I don’t.)
          To quote Richard S, ‘As impressive as Armisteads win was, the finish was a bit slow motion. When you look at speeds from womens races and TT’s they aren’t a great deal faster than good amatuer level men’s races, if at all.’
          For me, the women’s races – like lower men’s races – are tactically inept. And yes, to me, they look slow.
          I find women’s racing dull. I’m not saying I’m objectively right, but it is my subjective opinion – it has nothing to do with gender; it’s the racing.
          I prefer top racing; regardless of gender. I’m tired of people suggesting that this is sexist.
          Equally, I’m tired of people trying to force me to watch cycling I’m not interested in – the various calls to show the women’s Ronde in the middle of the men’s Ronde.
          I don’t want that for precisely the same reasons as I don’t want to see highlights from the Tour of Austria in the middle of a TDF stage – I have chosen to watch the TDF: I don’t want other races shoehorned in.

          • Scott Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 1:59 am

            “For me, the women’s races – like lower men’s races – are tactically inept. And yes, to me, they look slow.
            I find women’s racing dull. I’m not saying I’m objectively right, but it is my subjective opinion – it has nothing to do with gender; it’s the racing.”

            If you don’t watch it, how do you know this?

            You’re certainly entitled to your opinion….mine is the opposite. I find that the shorter races produce more exciting racing and breakaways often succeed on the women’s side. And tactics certainly play a role.

          • J Evans Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 9:26 am

            ‘I don’t watch it’ – that would be the present tense.
            That’s not the same as ‘I have never watched it’.

      • Nick Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 3:00 pm

        And why do women do fewer km more slowly? Has that got nothing to do with gender?

        • J Evans Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 10:58 pm

          I don’t care why they’re not as good.
          They have a perfectly good reason to be not as good – that doesn’t make me want to watch them.

          • Nick Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 12:04 am

            That wasn’t my point, and of course you’re free to be interested in what you like. You suggested it would be sexist for women to have equal pay with the men: because they don’t ride as far or fast, their pay would be purely due to their gender. However, this ignores the fact that men’s higher distance and speed (and therefore pay) is purely due to their gender.

            As it happens, I don’t think cycling events or teams necessarily need to have equal men’s and women’s events, although events run by the UCI clearly should (and they shouldn’t award 6 prizes for the men’s world tour vs only one for the women’s world cup), it just struck me as ironic to see a call for more money/kph for women as gender-driven without seeing men’s abilities to generate more kph as being equally gender-driven.

          • J Evans Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 12:24 am

            In most jobs, you get paid as per your abilities.
            In most jobs, men and women have the same abilities. And, therefore, should be paid the same. (They aren’t, because our society is sexist.)
            In this case, men and women don’t have the same abilities.
            Ergo, I wouldn’t pay someone for being worse – even if the reason they’re worse is down to innate physiology, etc.
            You’re not as good at something, but it’s not your fault? That’s life. Same reason I’m not making millions out of modelling or being a chess grand master.

      • ccotenj Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 5:15 pm

        @j evans… couldn’t agree more, and i’m a die-hard, born in the wool liberal…

        someone took a shot at me for not caring about anything other than elite level men’s cycling… but i really only want to watch the top level of anything… it’s not unique to cycling… i’m a huge pro sports fan, but have very little (if any) interest in their minor leagues… i LOVE LOVE LOVE nba basketball, and have ZERO interest in college basketball…

        it has nothing to do with gender… i have learned to enjoy equestrian sports (my wife is a dressage nut, part of her upbringing, i suppose), and at the top level, gender is not relevant…

        i want to watch competition between athletes AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL… if i did not, i could easily find all kinds of local sports that provide wonderful competition…

        • HWSB Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 7:08 pm

          Ok, but…. is elite women’s cycling not athletes performing AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL?

          The women’s pro peleton cannot perform at any higher level than they are already.

          I’m just asking, as I don’t understand your standpoint.

          Yes, women are different to men. So they split into different competitions.

          Men might ride further, run faster, hit harder, but it’s a hangover from the old-boy’s club mentality to say that what women do is inferior.

          No?

          • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 7:45 pm

            This is a matter of taste, it’s like asking people if they like milk chocolate or dark chocolate, wine or beer, pasta or rice, rap or reggae. Each to their own. What is different is the UCI is not supposed to express a preference or at least it’s there to support both men and women.

          • ccotenj Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 9:18 pm

            @hwsb…

            i should have been clearer… i meant competing “at the highest level possible by humans”… i don’t mean “at the highest level in their peer group”…

            i have “x” amount of time to devote to sports… and since i like a lot of different sports, i choose to only really care about the “top level”… as a general rule, the “top level” tends to be dominated by males, simply due to physical differences… because i have broad interests in sports, there simply isn’t enough time/energy to devote to all facets of any one sport…

            i am not saying women are “inferior”… i am saying, that as a general rule, for me and me only, the entertainment value of women’s sports is “inferior”… and as inrng points out, the uci should be “gender blind” when it comes to rules, regulation, testing, etc…

            let’s take sports out of it and make it an “all male” comparison… maybe that will get my point across..

            lets say that the best tenor on the entire east coast of the usa is singing at a venue local to me… he is the “best” of his peer group (tying back to above)… i’m not going to make time to go see him, because even though he is darn good (best of a large peer group), it’s not “worth” the time expenditure…

            now… lets say that andrea bocelli is singing there instead… you bet your bippy i’m gonna carve out the time to go see him…

  • Finn Monday, 12 October 2015, 11:46 pm

    Are people annoyed at Petro-dollar races or boring races, a lot of people repeatedly point out the the arab races are funded by oil but that doesn’t make a bad race, Azerbaijan was good this year.
    Anyway, if the riders want to be here to finish the season let them, clinging to a vague idea tradition will damage the sport but of course we can not let Cycling change beyond recognition, it is a very tricky balance of how to make the future of cycling better

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 12:16 am

      Oil and gas fund many things in the sport, the new races in Norway are part of this too. There’s Katusha funded by Russian/Turkmenistan gas giant Itera and more. The point above is more a boring race masks a new source of money for the sport and this in turn means new incentives, politics and all that.

  • Othersteve Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 12:21 am

    Perhaps they should of put on a Falconry tournament not a bike race!

    Thanks Inrng for providing the grist.

  • Richard S Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 12:33 am

    It’s not the fact that the race is blatantly just for petrol dollars it’s the combined effects of it being soulless, boring, devoid of local fan interest and also just a money making ploy. You can’t just make a sporting event of interest overnight. You need history, passion and whatever else. If these events are needed at the very least don’t undermine existing events that have those things by holding them at the same time. Surely it’s not too much.

  • Narkie Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 5:54 am

    Cycling fans* seem to be a bit like Australians. We’re unsure and perhaps a little insecure about our place in the world and constantly interested in how outsiders view us.

    *whatever this term may mean.

  • Ianpa Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 6:27 am

    Speak to the riders, yes it was hot… but… they enjoyed it here, hotels were good, sun was shining, roads were good, end of season relaxed atmosphere, prize money was good and they only had to race for a few KM’s each day, and it wasn’t Paris-Tours.

    In the realm of cycling races the race is an odd one, agree on that but at the end of a long season who is going to deny that these guys don’t deserve some R&R – let the UAE provide that, they are very good at hospitality.

    • Larry T. Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 3:33 pm

      Listen to the riders? The same group of folks who fought so hard against having to wear a crash hat or having dope testing? Pro cycling needs people with a long-range view while too many active pros have a tough time thinking beyond next year’s contract. Vacations are fine, but if they take away from established races in places with genuine fans they reduce the quality of the sport.

  • denominator Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 9:17 am

    OK, these are the reasons to organize something like AD Tour. Nevertheless the date is not very well chosen if the temperatures should regularly reach 40-ties, Either one week later (also to avoid Paris – Tours colliding, forgetting about conspiracy against ASO), or end January: there was one free weekend between TDU and Dubai. I understand that ADT should replace Beijing, but too hot instead of too smog?
    I would also add an ITT, either as a prologue, or a longer one replacing one flat sprint stage, to make the GC fight more variable and competition less dull. The F1 stage could be good for viewers, but there weren’t any – time to think of promotion via cheaper charters and hotels, maybe a day off and “compulsory” free tickets for gastarbeiters (workers from abroad) etc.
    Concerning the politics, the war makes all these near East locations questionable. (Tour of) Qatar backing al-Nusra, Q and UAE in Saudi coalition bombing Yemen, (Tour of) Iran backing Hizbollah and Asad … I don’t know who’s worse. But money talks.

  • Special Eyes Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:01 am

    The desert races are here to stay.
    It’s surely only a matter of time until one of the cities host the prologue / grand depart of Giro and / or TdF.

    • Richard S Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:07 am

      Definitely, good point. The Giro would seem to be favourite at the moment. And to be fair it probably wouldnt be any hotter than it was in Utrecht either!

      • Special Eyes Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:17 am

        They lend themselves well to a time trial, as has been pointed out.
        Imagine the last 5km being at dusk under the lights of Yas Marina ?
        I think it would be pretty awesome, to be honest, and especially if there was a good crowd present.

        • Richard S Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 1:42 pm

          I don’t think F1 circuits lend themselves to bike racing at all. They have these big flashy cities all lit up, using that as a back drop would be better I would have thought. It’d be a hell of a transfer for a Grand Tour, you’d probably have to have a prologue followed by a rest day!
          For their own stand alone race I think a season ending criterium would be best, around Doha or wherever at night. The lights would lend it its own feature and it would avoid pointlessly trapesing around a desert that is too hot for a race or anyone to watch. It wouldn’t give GT men much to aim at admittedly but you can’t have everything.

  • irungo txuletak Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 12:04 pm

    The desert races are OK in the beginning of the season being a good prep for the spring’s classics, but at the end of the season with so many unmotivated riders, I am not sure. Next when I see that this abu dhabi race is ridden by so many riders that could do Paris-Tours, I don’t think this is any good (apart from money of course…).
    And in any case, the route will make a desert race always quite boring. I am already afraid for next years worlds…

  • Santa Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 3:25 pm

    As much as I love watching a great race they are actually just moving bill boards.
    Isn’t part of racing in oil moneys back yard what sponsors want?
    Sponsors are what keep racing going and I doubt that the return on investment from cycling fans alone is significant. When was the last time anyone here bought something from a team sponsor? (bike companies not included).
    I’ve been watching races for 20 years, in that time I’ve spent £500 on quickstep flooring and that’s been about it.

    • Richard S Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 4:08 pm

      what’s your point?

      • Finn Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 4:20 pm

        That pleasing the fans generates less money than pleasing billionaires

    • J Evans Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 11:05 pm

      All depends if you think bike racing is for the sake of the sport or for the sake of the money.
      For me, it’s the sport.
      There will always be people willing to sponsor, so I don’t care about the money.
      Sponsors don’t keep the sport going – people’s love of it does.
      Run it for the fans, not business.

      • Nick Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 12:11 am

        That assumes it’s an either/or question. The ideal is surely to find a way that generates enough revenue for races and teams to be sustainable enough for racing to be sufficiently attractive a career to draw the best athletes (otherwise you might as well be watching a lower level). I don’t really see why fans wouldn’t want to see that.

        • J Evans Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 12:28 am

          Yes, because I was responding to Santa (a phrase I never thought I’d write) who ostensibly thinks that cycling is all about money.

          • Santa Thursday, 15 October 2015, 12:31 pm

            I don’t believe that cycling is all about money but I’m not naive enough to believe that it would survive as it is without significant financial backing.
            If you want to see what cycling looks like with minimal financial backing go watch women’s racing or your local races where guys (and gals) regularly have to fit training around a full time job.
            Without sponsors we wouldn’t have them tour or the giro and sponsors want a return on their investment. Cycling is a minority sport, it doesn’t get much coverage, hence it struggles to draw sponsors. It’s stated on these pages that we have 17 teams for 18 places next year. Is that the sign of a growing sport?
            If you want to watch top races from half way around the globe for minimal or no financial outlay then you should be thankful for sponsors who invest in our sport. It’s a symbiotic relationship and, right now, we need them.

          • J Evans Thursday, 15 October 2015, 12:43 pm

            See Richard S’s response below.

        • Richard S Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 11:36 am

          You either want to be a cyclist or you don’t. I might be wrong but I’m not aware of Vincenzo Nibali turning down a chance to play centre half for Palermo because they offered him less money than Liquigas, or Valverde choosing finishing 3rd in bike races over bull fighting. That’s a load of rubbish that applies pretty much only to the American sports that compete for athletes at college level.

          I’m with J Evans. As long as there are bikes people will race them, and as long as people race bikes other people will watch them. The glamour will then attract sponsors and associated hangers on who will try and get their piece of it. Cycling is at an advanced stage of that process but if it all fell down people would still race bikes.

  • Larrick Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 3:53 am

    There are two types of major sports. Those, like the football codes, that have a defined season followed by a break and those, like golf and tennis, which basically continue all year round. The first type set their season up to finish on a crescendo with a championship being won. Within this there are different narratives such as cup competitions, promotion, relegation etc but is effectively about crowning a champion, winning a Superbowl or a World Series or the like. 

    The second type shoehorn in a ‘end of season event’ that doesn’t match the narrative of the majors held throughout the year. Cycling sits between. It has a defined season but no crescendo to the end of it and an attempt at a denouement that isn’t the equal of the GT’s or Monuments but no continuation afterwards. 

    As cycling will always be more about individual races than a season defining finish, it may need to forget about trying to ‘create’ a season narrative and just spread the races across the whole year with a short Christmas break. Riders of course would need breaks through the year but teams don’t. This would automatically require globalisation to host events in the right conditions and nullify the need to host unwanted (bar the money of course) races. 

    • irungo txuletak Wednesday, 14 October 2015, 2:37 pm

      Cycling has had various formulae trying to create a season narrative, some more successful than others. The current one, the world tour classification is clearly not among the most successful.
      Maybe the most successful one was the deceased world cup. It was really a challenge riders were fighting for -with also a jersey associated to it-, but it had the default of not including stage races.