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Abu Dhabi will host a four-day race in October in what is the latest chapter in a decade-long boom in cycling in the oil-rich Middle East.
Officials from Abu Dhabi and RCS Sport, which will help produce and promote the race October 8-11, made the announcement Monday. The race will be rated as a 2.1 on the Asia Tour Calendar and will slot into the hole left by the Tour of Beijing, which ended its five-year run in October.
The race is the second for the United Arab Emirates, to go along with the Dubai Tour, which will hold its second edition in February, with defending Tour de France champ Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) among the confirmed starters. It also marks another coup for RCS Sport, which continues to push its cycling and gran fondo events around the globe.
“This important goal is in line with RCS Sport’s strategy focused on extending its activities towards new international markets,” said Lorenzo Giorgetti, director of RCS Sport and Events JLT, the UAE wholly owned subsidiary of RCS Sport, in a press release.
“RCS MediaGroup is proud to announce this partnership with Abu Dhabi,” said Pietro Scott Jovane, CEO of RCS MediaGroup, in the release. “For our group, sport is one of the strategic assets that we continue to foster through both our core media platforms, La Gazzetta dello Sport and Marca, and our sport business and events operations, RCS Sport and Last Lap. Sport is a natural driver for our internationalization and a fundamental vector of social development, which is one of the values perfectly represented by cycling.”
Middle East countries are investing in cycling in a dramatic way. Not only do they see the sport as a platform to promote a healthy lifestyle and its tourism assets, but it also ties in nicely with the region’s push for credibility in international sports. As a core Olympic sport, cycling is an ideal and relatively cheap way for nations to build credibility in the international arena.
The Tour of Qatar, with strong links to Tour de France owners ASO, got the ball rolling in 2002. The race is now established as a way to ramp up the classics season. With strong crosswinds and good weather, many of the top classics stars use the five-day Qatar race to build for the Belgian races.
Nearby Oman joined the party in 2010. Also with the backing of ASO, the race has since grown to 2.HC status, and with more challenging terrain compared to the flatter Qatari courses, it sees GC stars kick-starting their seasons in the fine winter weather of the Middle East. Chris Froome (Sky) has won the past two editions.
The United Arab Emirates was watching with interest, and jumped in with a highly successful debut edition of the Dubai Tour in February. Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) won stage 1 and the overall, while Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the three other stages.
Riders say they like the mild weather and world-class amenities that come with racing and training in the region. The events give teams an alternative for early-season racing far removed from the inconsistent late-winter weather of Europe. And organizers pull out all the stops to assure that teams and riders feel welcome, with deluxe accommodations and lucrative prize money and appearance fees. Last year at the Dubai Tour, the race also featured guest appearances from sports icons such as Diego Maradona and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso.
The Abu Dhabi Tour comes online just as Qatar is set to host the UCI Road World Championships in 2016, another sign that cycling enjoys major backing in the Middle East.
The United Arab Emirates started backing Continental team Sky Dive Dubai this year, which has European pros such as Francisco Mancebo, Vladimir Gusev, and Andrea Paolini on its roster.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Velo magazine, the annual awards issue.
In January, she was unconscious, lying on a table in Vermont, a labrum tear to her right hip being surgically repaired. In September she was overjoyed, standing on a podium in Hafjell, Norway, a bronze medalist at the world cross-country championship.
For Lea Davison, the 2014 season didn’t just deliver the best result of her career — it was a glimpse into the realm of what is possible, a test of the mental as much as the physical.
Following surgery, Davison had to first learn how to walk correctly again, before thinking about pedaling a bike. Exercise amounted to crutching around her house, or range-of-motion exercises in a local pool. Her first ride back was in Santa Barbara, at a USA Cycling women’s mountain-bike skills camp in early March, where she pedaled the granny gear for 30 minutes. Increased pain in April forced her to take a week completely off the bike, missing the Sea Otter Classic. She didn’t truly begin training until late May.
The turning point in her season, Davison said, was the technical and difficult seven-day B.C. Bike Race, in June. She came away from that event with the form needed to defend her national XC championship, ahead of Georgia Gould (Luna).
“The goal at B.C. Bike Race was just to ride, but I was so excited about racing again that I went for the win on the first stage and got the leader’s jersey,” Davison said. “Then, I was locked in a tight battle for the overall with Wendy Simms the whole week. I raced myself into the ground, but I ended up with the win, by a mere one minute after 18 hours of racing … and I couldn’t really breathe. My diaphragm was completely cramped by the end because I hadn’t breathed that much in over a year. It was a gamble with the race ending two weeks before the national championships. Luckily, it paid off.”
A national championship medal is not the same as one from a world championship, but there were indications that Davison was returning to world-class form. A fourth-place at the Mont-Sainte-Anne cross-country race in August tied her career-best at a World Cup. But for a rider who was ecstatic to finish 11th at the 2012 Olympic Games, a podium finish in Hafjell was well beyond expectations.
“It means the world to me. When I came down that finish straight at the world championships with a bronze medal, it was like I had won that race,” Davison said. “With all the hard work I put in, to go from crutches in January to getting the best result of my career, it gives it even more meaning. It was literally like my wildest dream had come true.”
Davison, 31, had been through a similar surgery in April 2010, forcing her to miss the rest of that season, and rebounding with a 2011 season that was, at the time, her best to date. Still, this time around, there was no guarantee that she’d be competitive midway through the same season in which she had the surgery.
“I definitely had my doubts, but all I could do was my best,” Davison said. “An experience like this really has a way of making me focus on the things in my control. It was so easy to focus on what everyone else was doing, all of the base miles my competitors were putting in, all of the races everyone did from March to July. But, I absolutely couldn’t. I couldn’t focus on results. My only focus was to do everything in my power to heal my hip, get back on the bike, and feel back to normal. Luckily, all of my sponsors stuck with me through this bumpy road. That support really makes a big positive impact during a time like this. Look what can happen when there’s a good support network around an athlete combined with hard work — so much is possible.”
Editor’s note: To close out the year, we are counting down the top 14 stories of 2014. VeloNews and Velo magazine’s editorial staff voted this piece, from the June 2014 issue of Velo, as one of our favorite stories of the year.
After three days in Belgium, the Visit Flanders tourism board laid out the following day’s agenda. Our group of American journalists would be going for a bike ride through the hallowed lands of the spring classics. While on much tamer roads than the previous day’s ride, which took us over various parts of the Ronde van Vlaanderen course, today we would be riding with a local cyclist, and a dozen or so of his friends.
The local was Eddy Merckx, and many of his friends were also his former teammates.
I found myself struggling to speak for much of the ride; the cumulative palmares of the group would rival that of a Tour de France peloton and, yes, I was a bit gun shy. The other five journalists and I stayed at the back of the two lines of friends. We stood out like sore thumbs.
Everyone else rode Eddy Merckx bikes of various generations and wore black kits covered in Eddy Merckx logos. We were on loaners, Eddy Merckx EMX-525s, and we didn’t know where the ride was going. We didn’t belong and we felt it, more so than the friends and teammates at the front — they weren’t fazed by our nervous presence.
The pace was brisk, but not fast; it was steady and easy to sit in. We’d been told Merckx was recovering from an injury sustained in a crash on this very group ride a few months earlier, though he didn’t show it. He doesn’t ride uphill much anymore. The roads around his home are mostly flat, and wrap like ribbon around the countryside, much like paved singletrack. After about 10 miles, Merckx, forever the patron, shouted some directions in Flemish and floated back in the group.
Then the group began to rotate. The paceline on the left moved forward, while the right moved backward, like a dual paceline, but the rotations were slower, the pulls longer. This system ensured that you pedaled next to a different person every five to 10 minutes as you inched closer to the front of the group.
I didn’t want to be on the front. I didn’t want to go too fast, or even worse, too slow. As I was sitting second wheel, the rider in front of me started half-wheeling another of the American journos, or perhaps it was the other way around. Regardless of who had half-wheeled whom, the ride started going much faster as the one-upmanship skyrocketed at the front end. Then shouts came from the back; I asked former Molteni team member Karel Rottiers what was being said.
“They’re yelling to slow down, that when you move up there it’ll keep getting faster,” he said. Apparently, the black kit I was wearing was terrifically slimming on this day.
The ride rotated again and I found myself on the front with 1981 Milano-Sanremo winner Alfons “Fons” de Wolf. “We ride for 3k here, and then you rotate over,” he said. I fumbled with my Garmin, changing it to display kilometers as quickly as I could. Then, feeling far too confident, I asked him how far we had until the sprint. I was partially joking, as he still looked like he could best any rider on his home roads.
A few kilometers later, as we came around one of the last turns, I felt a hand on my hip, and panicked, imagining I was doing something wrong. No.
De Wolf shouted at me to go. I was riding next to Merckx at this point, and Merckx said that this was the last little rise, and that it was all downhill back to the brewery. I went nowhere. This wasn’t my ride, and there was no way I was going to open up a town-line sprint. Let me remind you that I was riding next to the Eddy Merckx. The greatest cyclist, ever, without question.
Back at the Palm Brewery, in Londerzeel, we were able to catch the end of E3 Harelbeke. In the conference room of the brewery, the journalists, Merckx, and all of his friends spectated. While we couldn’t understand everything the former teammates said to one another in Flemish, the collective sigh that passed through the room when Belgian national champion Stijn Devolder went from on the attack, to out the back, was one of unmistakable disappointment.
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Namur World Cup 2014: Gage Hecht
In the juniors’ race, American Gage Hecht climbed out of an early hole and into the top five. “It was really fun, that was one of my favorite circuits I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s a lot of hills, a lot of descending, which is always fun. And I just love playing in the mud like it was today.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Medical
It was a mixed bag for participants in the USA Cycling Cyclocross Development Program, successor to the long-time EuroCrossCamp program run by Geoff Proctor. While many of the program’s riders had great results, more than one found themselves waiting in this little truck for medical help. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Vanthourenhout and Van Aert
Under-23 World Cup leader Michael Vanthourenhout and U23 world champion Wout van Aert chatted on the start line before the U23 race in Namur. Van Aert’s dominant performance in the race netted him a one-minute victory margin and Vanthourenhout’s overall leader’s jersey as well. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Mathieu van der Poel
Mathieu van der Poel, who has spent much of the season beating up on elite riders, managed a second place overall. But as he headed through the pits on the way to the bell lap, he was losing ground to Wout van Aert, and his frustration was palpable. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Big Hammer
It takes a big hammer to pound in the stakes on which the miles and miles of course fence are hung. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Marianne Vos
“I was happy with the start, I had some advantage, but I knew it was going to be hard to stay in the lead,” said world champion Marianne Vos, who went on to finish second in her first cyclocross race of the season. “I saw Katerina [Nash] coming, and I tried to keep up but I didn’t have anything left, so I had to take my own rhythm and had to let her go. But I’m really happy with second place in my first race, and I hope that the rhythm will come race by race.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Erica Zaveta
“It was good, it was really hard,” said American Erica Zaveta, who finished 20th. “It’s hard to start towards the back, so it was just like being patient and moving up. And I think that was best for how I would have ridden it, even if I was at the front. I was top-20, so I was happy with that. I learned a lot, it was super fun.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Compton and Lechner
American Katie Compton continued to battle allergies and asthma, but slowly reeled in rider after rider, like Italy’s Eva Lechner, on her way to third place. “I was probably in [the] 10th or 15th spot [at the start],” she said. “So I was able to pass a few girls and be patient. I didn’t feel that great today, so I knew I couldn’t go too deep. So I just slowly picked people off and rode steady.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Pauline Ferrand-Prevot
French champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot was in the hunt for the podium in the first half of the race, but faded badly in the third lap, eventually settling for fifth. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Arley Kemmerer
“I had a great start, the first half of the race was good, I was like 13th,” said American Arley Kemmerer. “But I just went backwards. The running just kills me, it’s really hard to recover.” A dropped chain cost Kemmerer a few places in the final lap, leaving her 26th on Sunday. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Katerina Nash
By the race’s midpoint, Katerina Nash had caught early leader Marianne Vos and continued on her own. “Marianne got a gap and I just slowly worked my way up towards her and we rode just briefly together,” said Nash. “I just felt stronger, and I wanted to go because you never know, you know? You can have a flat tire, anything could happen, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ve gotta go, I’ve got to keep going hard.’” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Denisa Minarikova-Svecova
Czech junior woman Denisa Minarikova-Svecova waited in the pits after being pulled two laps into the race. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: High Fives
“It wasn’t easy, but it was a good ride,” said Katerina Nash, who shared high-fives with the crowd on her way to victory in Namur. “I had two tiny little hiccups, but overall I just had a really good day and I’m super excited about it. I raced here two years ago and I just knew I wanted to come back to Namur. I really like the course and the steep ups and downs. So I’m really happy to come here and have a really good ride.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Pauline Ferrand-Prevot
When a road world champion — like France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prevot — turns up for a cyclocross race, even an ordinary event, like getting the timing chip removed from her number, attracts a crowd of photographers. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Sophie de Boer
It was a rough outing for the Netherlands’ Sophie De Boer. The one-time World Cup leader finished 13th on Sunday and slipped to fifth in the overall classification. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Sanne Cant
Belgian champion Sanne Cant rallied from eighth to sixth place late in the race to preserve her overall series lead by the slimmest of margins. But she missed the podium for the first time in a long time, and was forced to wait backstage to claim her leader’s jersey during the podium ceremony. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Marcel Wildhaber
Swiss rider Marcel Wildhaber took the early lead and rode to one of his best ever results with a sixth-place finish. Wildhaber benefitted from what the race announcers called a Swiss-style course for it’s heavy mud and steep climbs and descents. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Philipp Walsleben
“It’s a good result,” said German champion Philipp Walsleben, who finished third behind Dutch champion Lars van der Haar. “I think I lost the race when I had mud in my shifters. I couldn’t shift, and it was just on a place where it’s very necessary to shift. So I lost some meters and a lot of seconds, and it was just when the race unfolded, when Lars went and Kevin went behind him. So I had to wait at this moment and wait for a new bike, and then I could look for my own speed again. Maybe it would have been better without bad luck, but that’s racing.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Kevin Pauwels
“In the beginning of the race I wasn’t better than the rest, so it was fast enough for me,” said Kevin Pauwels, who secured his World Cup overall lead with a win in Namur. “I was always in the back of the [front group]. But I rode all the race at my own rhythm, and in a race like this it’s better not to go too deep in the beginning. Always ride your own speed.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Jeremy Powers
“I find it really challenging, it’s a really hard course, it’s got a little bit of everything,” said American Jeremy Powers, who rode a very consistent race into 16th place. “You know, any time the best guys in the world are, like, kicking their bike to keep their momentum going? Yeah. I made a lot of progress in this race specifically from the last time I did it, so I would say today was a positive feeling.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Jonathan Page
Jonathan Page was caught by a photographer’s flash on the way to an 18th-place finish, salvaging a respectable result after a late-race flat. “I had a rough day. I got a flat tire, I was stuck behind a lot of people, and that’s hard, you know?” he said. “It wasn’t the best result, but a good one. I had a consistent ride early and got even faster [at the end]. It’s just a disappointing result honestly, but compared to where I was it was a good result.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Corne van Kessel
Corne van Kessel rounded the muddy bend at the bottom of one of the course’s steepest drops. Van Kessel managed a fifth-place finish despite a heavy fall that left him nursing a painful wrist during the race’s final laps, a result that kept him inside the top three in the overall series classification. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Lars van der Haar
“This is a course where you can actually do something on your own, and I saw an opportunity to go when [Tom] Meeusen went, and I felt I was really strong uphill,” said Lars van der Haar, who battled for the race lead before mistakes in the final lap forced him to settle for second place. “So I just went full gas to him and then just did my own race. If someone is better and comes back, congratulations.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Tom Meeusen
Tom Meeusen was in the hunt for a podium place, but fell from contention in the race’s second half. Nonetheless, his fourth-place finish was enough to bump him into second in the race for the overall World Cup title. Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
Namur World Cup 2014: Pauwels Victorious
Kevin Pauwels had plenty to smile about as he extended his recent run of impressive results with another win. “The World Cup is looking very, very good,” he told reporters. “We have two races to go, so it’s not sure yet. Friday in Zolder I will try to lose as few points as possible on the other guys. But it’s looking really, really good.” Photo: Dan Seaton | VeloNews.com
It’s hardly the Christmas present 2014 Liège–Bastogne–Liège champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) was hoping for.
Gerrans snapped his collarbone while mountain biking over the weekend, and will miss the chance to defend his titles at the Australian national championship and at the Santos Tour Down Under next month.
Gerrans, 34, was scheduled to undergo surgery on his left shoulder Monday, and admitted he will not be at a top level to race in January.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how well the recovery goes from here, I don’t think I am going to be in any condition to be racing at a high level in January,” Gerrans said in a team release. “With that in mind I think it is better to take my time, make sure the recovery goes well and get all the rehab done so I don’t have any ongoing issues.
“Looking on the bright side, what it does do, is force a bit of a break now and mean that I can work towards some goals later in the season and be a lot fresher,” Gerrans continued.
Gerrans crashed Sunday while training off-road, landing hard on his left side.
“About halfway through my mountain bike ride I became a little unstuck, came down and landed pretty heavily on my left side,” he explained. “I knew straight away as I hit the ground that I had broken my left collarbone. From there I had a little bit of a walk to get down to a point where I was picked up by a four-wheel drive and went directly to Mansfield hospital to get cleaned up and have the x-ray to confirm.”
Team officials said Gerrans would likely need 10 days off the bike before he can resume training, meaning that he will have to recalibrate his season focus toward the spring classics. Orica was building its entire TDU team around Gerrans, but will now have to reset its goals for the UCI WorldTour opener.
“He is the ultimate professional, and he will be back on the bike in no time and hunting down his next victory before we know it,” Orica sport director Matt White said. “In terms of the team this summer, there is no doubt it is a huge hit, but we have some really motivated guys who are looking really strong. Now it is their chance to step up and deliver in a very important period for us and we are really confident they can do that.”
Gerrans will likely make his season debut in Europe to tune his form ahead of an assault on the spring classics.
The crash puts an unfortunate ending to his otherwise superb 2014 campaign, which included victories from January to October, among them Liège, second at the world championships, and victories in the Canadian WorldTour races.
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