By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar
US Champion Brooke Miller hopes to be a role model for young Qatari girls as she races with her team this week in the inaugural Ladies' Tour of Qatar, February 8 to 10. She hopes the event will bring a change of attitude towards women's sports in the Islamic country.
Most women in Qatar cover themselves fully with a head-to-toe covering called an abaya, so the sight of dozens of women in tight cycling clothes is quite unusual, but Miller was surprised that they didn't draw a negative reaction. "I thought people would be a lot more shocked to see us in our shorts and jerseys," said Miller, who stood out in her stars and strips jersey, to Cyclingnews.
The same organiser of the Tour de France and the men's Tour of Qatar, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) runs the stage race. It worked with the Qatar Cycling Federation to create the tour as a way to promote sport to young girls. Miller sees the race as an opportunity to give back to the sport.
"When I was growing up, even in America, I did not have female athletes as role models. Now, all the little girls in the States are looking up to my generation of athletes as role models. It is very empowering for women.
"Here they can see there are other parts of the world where women are doing sports, racing professionally and travelling around the world as athletes."
Miller and her US National Team cohort Katharine Carroll made the key move of 21 riders in stage one on Sunday. Miller ended the day in 14th after a tough stage finish which saw multiple attacks in the final kilometres.
"I went with the French girl in the first move near one kilometre to go. I was on that wheel, but we hit a headwind and I blew. When the next move went, the winning move, I was wiped out."
Millar, 32, will lead the team over the next two stages. The race is suited to her style, with flat and windy stages that demand a strong rider.