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Dubai to host 'uphill' Le Tour prologue in 2009

Exclusive by Marek Woodstein

In a bold move to increase the globalisation of the sport of cycling, as well as the Tour de France, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announced on April 1 that for the first time ever, a stage of the Tour de France will be held outside of Europe - with the location of Dubai, United Arab Emirates as the location. In a twist, the ASO announced that the prologue time trial would feature a unique uphill finish - something that is difficult to find in the desert country.

"This is really a sign of the times," said an ASO spokesman. "We have thought about this for a long time, and feel that this is the year to do it."

Rumors about holding the Tour prologue outside of Europe have been constant in recent years, with sites such as Quebec, New York City and fellow middle east country Qatar, home of ASO's Tour of Qatar, as possible contenders. It had been reported that the Emir of Qatar wanted the prologue in Qatar's capital of Doha. Doha was considered as a location, but the extremely high temperatures of the desert city was a prohibitive reason.

"Dubai won the bid with the unique idea to hold the prologue indoors inside the Mall of Emirates and finishing uphill on their indoor ski hill," he said. "It has everything, including hotel space for the entire Tour and a built in Tour village with the food court."

UAE's cycling federation president Shaikh Faisal bin Humaid Al Qasimi, who recently sought the expert advice for increasing cycling exposure in his country, explained the planned parcours. "Because of the high temperatures, we decided to design an indoor course that would display Dubai's landmarks," he said. "The Mall of Emirates is one of the largest, single-building malls in the world, with 225,000 square metres. The length of the mall is around 3.3kms and the first part of our prologue course will use about 4.2km with turns."

However, the most unique part of the prologue will be the finale - an uphill climb up Ski Dubai, the mall's indoor snow ski area. "The ski area is directly connected to the mall, and there is a rideable link to the slope," said Humaid Al Qasim. "The slope itself is 85 metres high. This is as high as the Eiffel Tower in Paris! And since the slope is 400 metres long and 85 metres wide, we can design a winding finish of 600 metres. This will make the entire prologue 4.8km." This length makes it slightly longer than the shortest prologue in Tour history, besting the 1986 prologue of 4.6km Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris.

This is not the first alternative sport use of the ski area, with Maria Sharapova and Lindsey Davenport playing a tennis match to promote the recent Dubai Open. Humaid Al Qasim also cited the spectator-friendly aspect of the Mall as a reason for the selection. "Our capacity is 50,000 persons, so it will be one of the best prologues for spectators ever. But the riders might need long sleeve skinsuits for the finish!"

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