Dubai could host the start of the Giro d'Italia in the next few years as the globalization of the sport continues and event organisers look for new sources of funding for major events.
The middle eastern Emirate will host the Dubai Tour - its first international stage race, in February 2014 in partnership with RCS Sport. Key staff from Dubai visited the Giro d'Italia in May and were at Il Lombardia and the 2014 Giro d'Italia presentation in Milan on Monday to learn more about the technical and promotional aspects of professional cycling.
Cyclingnews has discovered that the idea of hosting the Giro d'Italia Grand Partenza is already being considered.
The Middle East has hosted early-season races in Qatar and Oman for several years and other sports have tapped into the wealth and the passion for sport in the area to boost their international profile.
The Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana and the Tour de France have started in various parts of Europe before, with riders and race staff flying from Denmark to Italy and from the Netherlands to Spain in recent years. Logistics and travel are becoming less and less of a problem. There is only a two-hour time difference between Italy and Dubai.
RCS Sport obtained dispensation from the UCI for an extra rest day in the 2014 Giro d'Italia after three days of racing to allow teams to make the three-hour flight from Ireland to Italy. A similar schedule could open the door to a Grand Tour start in the Middle East or even on the East coast of the USA.
"This is something were working on and were going to discuss as part of our strategy with the Giro organisers," Mohammed Merhab Al Sabagh, a board member of the UAE Cycling Federation and the head of the technical and sport division of the Dubai Tour told Cyclingnews after the Giro d'Italia presentation.
"We've seen how Northern Ireland and Ireland have organised the opening three stages and that's fabulous. Next year we're going to watch the stages in Belfast and Ireland and see how they do, then open the door to negotiations with RCS Sport and the Giro to host one or two stages in Dubai."
The 2014 Dubai Tour
The inaugural Dubai Tour will reveal if the busy Gulf state is able to host a major bike race. The idea of the race was unveiled in January, when Alberto Contador, Tony Martin, Ryder Hesjedal and Vincenzo Nibali were flown to Dubai for the announcement. Staff from RCS Sport visited Dubai in September to plan the route and finalise the technical organisation.
"The whole staff of the Tour of Dubai, members of the Dubai police force and the road and transportation authorities came to Il Lombardia to have a good idea about racing and road closures," Mohammed Merhab Al Sabagh said.
"We also came to the Giro d'Italia and followed five stages. I was amazed by the big crowds at both the Giro and Il Lombardia and by the strategy and marketing plans RCS Sport puts in place for them. Dubai is a busy city and has three million cars going in and out every day. Doing a major road closure for four days in February is a big decision and a big job. We're sure it will go well."
The Dubai Tour will be held between February 5-8. One stage of the race will visit the mountain enclave of Hatta in the north-east of the United Arab Emirates.
"We've finalised the route of the stages. We've got approval from the UCI and we're proud to be the first event in the Asian calendar," Mohammed Merhab Al Sabagh said.
"We've got a mountain stage in the north, near the border with Oman. There's great roads up there and there's a spectacular view. The race will visit other cities outside of Dubai such as Hatta too."
"There be an official presentation in Dubai but we're confident of having the best teams and best ranked riders in the race."