Desert Algebra

Dubai Tour 2018

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.

Mark Cavendish Dubai Tour

1.5X > X
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…

54 thoughts on “Desert Algebra”

  1. It’s a shame it’s a comparitively boring race, uet the bigger shame though is that drug scandals, cheating and generally bad image related issues are already figuring heavily in the press in 2018, with cases from last year and further back hitting the headlines now. Parents who are convicted drug cheats from a few years ago encouraging their children to do the same is beyond belief for other parents, and then a kid dies from using peds. Today, the BBC released a report of how members of the UK cyclo cross team still use derogatory terminology, not dissimilar to what Sutton used.
    Is there any chance a recently retired member of the pro peleton is willing to step forward and tell us what goes on? Pro cycling needs to clean itself up, many of us know that, but how is it ever going to be done? I’m just about to sell my son’s bikes and equipment and have him quit his team. He raced a few weeks ago, the guy who finished ahead of him was convicted a few years ago of peds, and here he is still racing. Should I break my son’s heart and make him quit racing? Is this what cycle racing has to offer up and coming U23 racers who are so far succeeding? What does he have to look forward to, a life of needles and chemicals?

    • The entire attitude towards drugs in this sport is wrong.
      Look at the number of people looking to excuse Froome – and you can find that with any vaguely popular rider who has been caught, even some of the most blatant ones: there is nothing new about his, his team’s or his fans’ behaviour/attitudes.
      Nothing has really changed: drug use is less overt and extreme, but is still tolerated as long as you can work it around ‘the rules’, there is a lack of openness (presumably because the public’s opinion would be negative) and the health of riders is all but ignored.

    • Yes, I’m afraid that is what he’d have to look forward to. It’s professional sport. To be an elite athlete you have to be absurdly driven and focused on winning. More often than not that means getting any advantage and that equates to doping. This is hardly unique to cycling.

      At the end of the day there is always more money in developing news drugs than there are in creating tests to detect those drugs, and there will always be people willing to risk their health to win at something, even if that something is completely meaningless like a local amateur hill climb event. The more times goes on the less value I see in fighting doping, because it’s a fight that can’t be won. And it’s not like Floyd Landis riding everyone off his wheel in 2006’s TdF on that one stage wasn’t a hugely impressive physical feat despite the fact he did it with PEDs. The sports still exciting to watch. Hell, maybe it’s even more exciting. Does it have a deleterious impact on rider health? Almost certainly, but there’s plenty dangerous sports around regardless of drug cheats.

      • In fact, in Landis’ case the most surprising thing for me was the bunch pretty much not chasing during most of the stage. A CdE-driven appallingly slow procession went up the central climbs… perplexing to say the least.

        However, you’re spot on when you say that similar woes are common to most – if not all – pro sports. Also add to individual motivation for cheating the collective factors thrown in the mix by teams and sponsors and you’ve got the full picture.

        Still, I consider it’s a fight worth being tackled in order to keep things a little less wild. You’ll always need to have something in the rules which allows you to stop those who’re going way too far.
        I think that no pro sport will really try to kick doping out while pro sport runs under a market economy (personal opinion). Doping is too good for most deciding parties – the only ones who might dislike doping are spectators and athletes.
        Yet, everybody – teams and institutions included – agrees that it’s fine to keep the whole system under control and the existence of doping rules is very opportune in that sense. Authorities can just use them when they consider it’s absolutely necessary.

        Finally: yes, there are dangerous sports around, but most of them try to reduce any risk which can be limited without hindering the nature itself of the sport.
        And there’s another factor you didnt’ count in (well, there are several more, but I won’t make this any longer): in what we may call a *dangerous* sport, generally the athlete is very conscious about the risks and their management – more often than not, he or she has got an instant feedback about events, conditions, options (which leaves room to mistakes or situations beyond control, but at least the basics are set). On the contrary, few cyclists do *really* understand what might happen to their body because of doping, how that works and what the consequences could be over time. Even specialists struggle with that, imagine an elite athlete who’s often not very schooled and who in most cases won’t be correctly informed about the subject by the involved doctors.

        • You can’t blame drugs on the ‘market economy’. Thousands of Soviet block athletes were doped to the eyeballs in an effort to win Olympic medals as part of state sponsored propaganda efforts with no regard to sporting ethics or the health of individual athletes.

          The point is that drug use is cycling is cheating, just as putting a secret fuel tank in an F1 car is cheating, or wrapping your fists with plaster in boxing or scoring a goal in soccer with your hand. If you don’t have rules in sport, you no longer have a sport, you have a punch up which nobody will want to watch because it doesn’t mean anything.

          Quicker justice, harsher penalties and exclusion of teams from events are required, not a shrug of the shoulders as if nothing can be done.

          • A bit of logic.
            The existence of state doping (in the Soviet block, in Italy, in West Germany, in the USA…) doesn’t disprove my belief, which is that “no pro sport will really try to kick doping out while pro sport runs under a market economy”.
            The fact that other reasons than profit may exist to foster doping (as they do, sure) doesn’t make it less true that profit and marketing are a powerful if not invincible impulse to doping.

            “Quicker justice, harsher penalties and exclusion of teams from events are required”. It’s already been done. And here we are.

            I don’t know whether they kept themselves true to their principles, but ISSUL wrote some very intersting studies about how doping works in cycling and what the best strategy to eradicate or reduce it might be. Have a look. I think that inrng commented on that in the past.

            The mess in your examples shows quite well why focussing on the category of “cheating” is a complete failure if you want to understand doping, especially in cycling.

          • I don’t agree that cheating in cycling will always be tolerated to some extent. I think the ‘market economy’ premise is that the organizers, sponsors, and fans all want the kind of performances that only doped athletes can give. You can make that case in sports like track and field, or swimming, where the constant setting of new Olympic and world records, or the need for countries to win medals, fuel a lot of the interest. And you can make that case in sports where physical violence is a big part of the sport, like football and rugby (they’re wrecking themselves anyway, and doing superhuman things, so who cares about steroids, etc.). But in cycling, if everyone is on a relatively even playing field, and you have high-quality athletes participating, you have exciting races.

            A lot of sponsors are in it just to get their name out there. You can do that by just having riders do a lot of breakaways. Sure most sponsors want to win races, but even winning teams change sponsors often. Most races lose money, with or without doped performances (and the ones that make money, make money even if every rider is squeaky clean). Most fans are attracted to home-town heroes, or riders with style and heart, and you don’t need doping for that. OTOH, the stigma of doping has been a primary reason why cycling has remained a backwater sport that is widely mocked in many countries, and is a sport that many sponsors wouldn’t consider. In other words, in terms of the sporting ‘marketplace,’ the downside of doping is far far deeper than the upside is high. That is true if you look at financial profits, or prestige, or whatever.

            I also think suggesting that the UCI and doping authorities have done all they can, and look, we still have doping, is wrong. The sport evolved for over a hundred years with doping openly acknowledged and winked at. It reached a deadly and ugly crescendo in the last couple of decades, and even then any real change at all required a few epic scandals. The sport is really only slightly removed from the time when wide-scale cheating was organized and condoned at the highest levels. There is still a lot of low-hanging fruit in the anti-doping measures the sport can take. Justice is still far from quick, penalties often appear erratic and mild, and unrepentant teams and individuals with substantial cheating histories continue to be major players. Most of all, there is a stunning lack of transparency. I’ve needed experts to interpret the UCI and WADA rules, and even then some don’t seem to agree. While things are vastly better than 10-15 years ago, there’s still much to be tried and implemented.

            And no, I don’t think 100% doping-free pro cycling can ever be a certainty. Some will always cheat.

    • ‘still use derogatory terminology’

      Are you saying you never have? People in sport are just that – people. Not robots. Thank god your son isn’t interested in football, the language you’d here in the dressing rooms or on the stands would be an eye opener for you to say the least.

    • Cycling is dying, yet not many seem to notice it. More and more excrements coming out, yet none of 4-5 SKY-SCANDALS were taken seriously by UCI, WADA (UKAD is subdued to SKY and BRailsford)

      • Absolute rubbish. It is thriving. We haven’t met market saturation even yet.

        When the use of drugs was at its worst and most blatant it saw its most massive gains in market share.

  2. It seems an event that is good for the sponsors, and therefore lucrative to RCS. But from my perspective, I am enjoying the sprint finishes. Not to see one person win, but to see how the teams are organizing (or not) early in the season. The last 3 km, then the last km, are fun to see on replay and interesting to try and understand. I’m glad for the opportunity.

  3. Oman and Qatar were decent races from several POVs (Oman still should be), I can’t say the same about Abu Dhabi or Dubai, although yesterday’s stage was very emotional.
    As inrng points out, the Colombian race has been more fun, until now – and it promises to get even better for the final two stages.

  4. Dubai + Abu Dhabi are great races in my opinion as it lets us see most of the big sprinters battle it out early on in the season. We dont get such a deep field of sprinters until the Tour. These riders push themselves to the limit so I think its right that they have an easier race where they can jostle it out in the last 10k.

  5. Accidentally I watched the Dubai race today for about one hour and yesterday for about two hours. I watched it on Dubai sports via an internet link. I could not understand the language but on the screen was enough information (in English) to be able to follow the race. I found it quite interesting, may be mainly because it was the first time I got a longer impression of the cycling there and also of the country, the landscape, people, architecture, podium ceremony etc. It’s not only desert, yesterday we were going through a (bare) mountainous area with a finish steep uphill, and today I saw a lot of Dubai city. It did not look like a country I would like to live permanently, but if you want to globalize cycling you have to try something new to make people in the Arabic world, Africa and Asia more enthusiast for cycling and in the future have more riders from those areas who can compete at the highest level.

    Not so long ago we were talking about the desirability of podium girls here in the western world. Although I got the impression that Dubai is not the worst in the Arabic world, there they have the problem that woman, because of male jealousy and possessiveness, are hardly visible in the public domain and it would be a blessing and a big step forwards in the emancipation if they had podium girls there kissing the winner. And it would be a double blessing and a liberation if they would allow woman in bikini to do that. So we have to see everything in perspective.

    • God bless bikini and its multiple blessings!

      What a concept of “step forward”…

      Last year they had podium girls, anyway (dressed as *boring* persons, you know – and their face wasn’t covered, either).

    • just wanna clarify that it’s possible to simultaneously support the liberation of women in the Arab (+ wider Muslim) world and oppose the the objectification of women in the post-sexual revolution etc global north, without any kind of contradiction. in other words, the ideal should be for women everywhere in all cultures to be emancipated but also free from unwanted sexual objectification. to be sure there is a thorny, laden space where cultural imperialism intersects with feminism (as also with LGBT rights in some African countries, or any number of other issues), but you’re creating a false dichotomy where we have to either be for repression or objectification.

      anyway, by all means back to cycling, just couldn’t let that pass without saying something.

      • what about wanted sexual objectification? Like, podium girls want to be podium girls, pit girls want to be pit girls and page 3 girls want to be page 3 girls. Taking away how they earn a living isn’t doing them any favours.

        • Wanted objectification is always going to happen but it should only happen in permitted environments. It shouldn’t be a bundled product in any serious sport.

        • The sexualization of an awards ceremony is not necessary for sport. Amanda Batty puts it perfectly: podium eye candy are “non-contributors”; they do absolutely nothing for cycling. Racing is not better or worse for their absence or presence. And she cites numerous studies that demonstrate that they don’t increase the economic viability of these events (i.e. more people don’t watch them because a babe is in the podium).

          But worry not, pretty girls (and boys) will always have their spots in life and promotion. Don’t believe me? Navigate to the top of your browser and type “bikini girl” (or any other state of dress or undress, and the gender of your preference). I assure dozens of pages of results will come up. They’ll still have a job, just that sport doesn’t need to invest in this cost with little value or return.

      • You make some good points.
        About the objectivation: I am a little bit hesitant to play the role of a moral police-agent (like they have in some Arabic countries a mode police to judge if the ladies don’t go too far in their clothing). I prefer to let everybody decide for him/herself what he/she wants to do or wear, as long as they are not interfering with other peoples rights and freedom (as is the case in the exclusion of women to participate in public life).

    • Oh, again with this globalization… I don’t think it’s done for anything else than money and for profits UCI should rather present the CX season to the masses. The markets that digest road classics and GTs would find CX great. Just make the calendar more consistent. It’s difficult for someone new to the sport to understand what’s going on with all the cups, championships, etc.

      • I think that the globalization can not be stopped and that we can also get a continuous cycling calendar by involving both the northern and the southern hemispheres. Not that I’m at the moment impatiently waiting for races in China, but it’s a big market…and may be in 10 or 20 years we are used to the idea.

  6. As I said, Dubai is probably not the worst place for woman in the arabic world.
    In the sixties of the past century we had here in the west the sexual revolution and the womans emancipation movement, that gave woman a much greater freedom in their sexual life and also in all kind of other areas.
    It is this kind of revolution the Arabic world has yet to go through.

    • Merely decorative use of sexualised women in the so-called Western world vastly pre-dates the social movements of the Sixties, hence I struggle to see how the former could be related to the latter.

      It’s not uncommon that women whose job is being displayed as objects of desire suffer severe attacks to their sexual freedom. And I’d dare to say that to associate dress and supposed sexual attitudes is a dangerous male fantasy. Even more so when the dress isn’t anything else than part of your job.

      But I think that we’ve had more than enough on this (and I take the fault on me for that).

  7. IF the organisers wanted to liven up the stages, they could have the maximum allowed 3×3 seconds intermediate time bonuses, but scrap the finish time bonuses completely (if the UCI allows this). Sprinters would still gun for the stage wins but anyone sprinter or otherwise looking to place on GC would have to either control breaks or go in them. would completely shake up the traditional early break goes, peloton slowly pulls them back for a bunch sprint model. much like the hammer sprint race i think.

    but i think the big teams would bypass dubai then since the purpose for them is sprint train practice

  8. I really enjoyed it, for the scenery and the racing. It’s good to see a multi-stage event for sprinters and Viviani had to work hard against a strong field for his wins. I also enjoy seeing the pro-conti teams and young riders having a go. Stage 4 was really exciting, with a 19 year-old from Rally Cycling almost winning in a solo break at Hatta Dam. And yes, there were plenty of spectators. More than I saw watching the Tour of Valencia. I’ve never seen so many female race marshals before, either.

    • What about Ecky and Larry? They are frequent commenters too. It’s clear to all that it’s a comments section, not an author section. You are not contributing to the discussion just trying to shut down people. And some of these comments are really interesting.

    • Anand, what distinguishes this comments section (and makes it readable) is that commentators – in the main – stick to debating the issues rather than insulting other commentators. Feel free to join in if you agree/disagree with the issues being discussed.

      • +1 And while I can’t speak for Anand I find it no problem to simply scroll past comments from those (few I might add) whose viewpoint I find uninformed or of the “You suck!” “No, you suck!’ variety. Mr. Inrng has done a good job for the most part keeping this forum from becoming a joke in the way that so many others are…I hope he (we) can keep it that way?

  9. “Perhaps this is a race that nobody is supposed to watch anyway?”
    After tuning in to watch this “race” across what looks like a cross between the moon and a desolate Native American reservation I’m inclined to say YES. But the real season is not too far away now.

  10. Your conclusion sums it up nicely, its all about business this one. Oh, and some nice sunny pictures for the snappers to capture the seasons new gear. Personally, my viewing season starts in a few short weeks.

  11. The Dubai and Abu Dhabi races could be hillier and harder, but they are not, 1 stage per race to mix it up, you have Hatta Dam for Dubai and Jebel Hafeet for Abu Dhabi, other than that its just for sprinters, warm weather training and an easy life.

    Another thing that also mustn’t be overlooked is the road infrastructure here, you all see the wide roads, but they are generally the ONLY roads going to where the racing is, hence if you want to be a spectator out of the finish en-route you need to be very creative, the police here are also closing roads well in advance.

    Its the same for the finish areas, you can’t get to them by foot easily and driving is limited, so again you have to be in place very early, often with ZERO to do, as they don’t finish inside the shopping malls!!

    Don’t knock it, everyone wins, RCS get money, UAE gets exposure and the riders don’t have to worry about transfers or poor weather, and us Expats living here can get up close and personal without too much hassle.

      • Outside of the race, the riders are very accessible and it’s not too hard to get a ride in with them on the days before the race. There are roads up the mountains, but like I said it’s usually one way in and out. Maybe one year they will go up into them.

  12. I watched the end of one of the Dubai stages, the one Cav won, and was surprised to see a mountainous backdrop. Presumably there are no roads up there?! It’s the definition of a warm up race.

  13. It appears to me be similar to a cycling camp! Like we use to go to as kids. ( simple, not particularly difficult and all in one location) Albeit, with 5 star lodging and Hermes shops aplenty.

    We don’t need to feel so bad for riders when they harp about lousy motels during some other races.

  14. I’m just glad to watch ANY road racing at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Listening to the familiar voices on Eurosport makes it feel truly like a new season of cycling is upon us. As for the title of this piece “Desert Algebra,” and Inrng’s informative note that the word “algebra” comes from the Arabic word makes me realize that the Middle Eastern and the Arabic civilizations must have been rich in mathematics and numbers (which are also Arabic). Without such contributions to the world, we might still be using local number systems, like Roman numerals, or even Chinese characters–cumbersome to say the least. The Middle East must have been able to make such advances because of the vast amount of trade going back and forth from Western and Eastern Europe to Asia, all of which was going through the “middle-man,” which was literally the Middle East. Such historical times are a far cry from the current state of the Middle East with its wars, deprivation and political strife. The rest of the world seems to be advancing, but that particular region seems to be regressing–except of course for the rich sponsors of the Middles Eastern Tour races. God bless ’em!

  15. Agreed, it’s not the best race to watch.

    But, it’s a win-win for the teams. They get to hold early season training races in warm climates, all expenses paid (start fees must be high), plus the top teams make some good winnings. How many times has Quick Step won in these races over the years?

  16. One wonders if the Tour of Dubai couldn’t borrow from track cycling: have a points race throughout the day’s stage which offers varying incentives to sprint – with the benefits being time based or real monetary gain. Alternatively, look at rewarding riders for consistency in sprinting/mountains/solo riding – I know the points race is supposed to do this in a way, but because the points race never determines the ultimate winner of a tour it is always a side show.

  17. To be clear I am just responding to Inrng’s comments on the drabness of the Dubai Tour, not that I want to see those ideas encroach into other cycling events, just exploring ideas.

Comments are closed.