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Tour of Oman helps cross a cultural divide

The inaugural Tour of Oman proved to be far more than just a bike race for both the 126 riders and the thousands of Oman people who line the route to see the race go by each day.

Thanks to the hard work by organisers Eddy Merckx and the Municipality of Muscat, and with the excellent technical assistance from Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), any problems were quickly resolved and the race has been a huge success in every sense of the word.

The competition was aggressive and gave the riders a block of warm weather racing that will give them a solid base of form to build on from the major Spring Classics.

More importantly the race sparked a cycling-inspired cultural exchange. The local people enjoyed seeing professional cycling for the first time, while everyone on the race discovered the Oman people's friendly nature and desire to develop as a nation.

The warm welcome certainly pleased the riders. Overall winner Fabian Cancellara has raced all around the world during his career but still enjoys racing in new countries.

"It's easy to get obsessed with our racing and not see where we're competing, but it's been a great experience for me to come to Oman, and I think we're helping to send an important message to people who watch the race on television in the rest of the world," he said to Cyclingnews.

"One of the great things about cycling is that we get so close to the people that they can almost touch us. That doesn't happen in most other sports. Here it's allowed for us to get know the local Omani people and them to get to know us."

Marco Pinotti pointed out the often-ignored cultural benefits a bike race can inspire.

"I did the Tour of Qatar in 2005 but here the people seem more interested in the race," Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia) observed to Cyclingnews.

"On television, this part of the world seems quite dangerous because we're near Yemen and just across the gulf from Iran, but it's totally the opposite to what I expected."

"Oman is an Islamic country, but everyone is friendly and quite open. They way they welcomed us is a clear sign for both us and for them that we can all live together. I hope this event continues in the future because it can only help different countries, continents and culture understand each other better."

That is perhaps the most successful aspect of this first ever Tour of Oman.

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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.