By Gregor Brown in Al Shahaniyah, Qatar
The Tour of Qatar's best young rider Ellen van Dijk hopes that she and the other women present at the three-day stage race this week can have a positive impact on young Qatari girls.
"I heard yesterday there was a bike race for the local girls. That is good because they learnt to ride their bikes only two weeks ago," said van Dijk to Cyclingnews.
The Tour of Qatar is the first professional women's race organised in the Middle East. It follows on the success of the men's stage race, this year in its eighth year and won by Tom Boonen of Team Quick Step.
Van Dijk claimed the blue jersey of best young rider on day one of the race when she made the key move of 21 riders. She leads the competition of under-25 riders by nine seconds over Suzanne de Goede (Nürnberger Versicherung).
It is her first year with Team Columbia-Highroad, the organisation owned by Bob Stapleton and which boasts a powerful men's squad. She has raced with Vrienden van het Platteland and successfully competed on the track over the past years.
"I started riding around the age of 10, but racing at 15. Before I was into speed skating; we trained a lot on the bike in the summer. I worked my way up through the national races."
Van Dijk is building for here world title ambitions in Poland, March 25 to 29. She will defend her title in the scratch race, and compete in the points race, individual pursuit and team pursuit.
After Qatar ends Tuesday, van Dijk will travel to Copenhagen for the final round of the Track World Cup, February 13 to 15.