By Susan Westemeyer
The Emir of Qatar has asked cycling legend Eddy Merckx to persuade the organisers of the Tour de France to hold the start of that race in the Arab state on the Persian Gulf. "Qatar has good roads, sufficient hotels and the climate is outstanding," Merckx told the Belgian newspaper Le Soir. Such a prologue would mark the first time that any stage would be held outside of Europe.
ASO, which manages the Tour de France, also organises the Tour of Qatar. That relationship will continue through at least 2011, Merckx said.
A Tour de France start in Qatar would be feasible, he assessed. "You could transport all the material with an Airbus. It would be good for the globalisation of cycling." The logistical difficulties would be similar to those faced this summer when the Tour holds its opening stages in Great Britain, he pointed out.
How about the effect of the summer temperatures? The average high in Doha in July is 41° Celsius (106°F). This would just provide the ideal opportunity to hold the prologue in the evening, Merckx said, when the temperature is bearable. The average low in Doha in July is 28° Celsius (83°F).
Merckx also mentioned the possibility of holding the World Championships in Qatar, pointing out that the World's held in Zolder in 2002 were on a flat course similar to that in the desert land.