Tour of Qatar launched in Doha

The Tour of Qatar was formally launched at a press conference in Doha on Tuesday. The three-day women’s race gets under way tomorrow, while the men’s event begins on Sunday.

ASO competitions director Jean-François Pescheux believes that the route of each race should ultimately play to the sprinters’ advantage. World champion Giorgia Bronzini will line up as favourite in the Ladies Tour of Qatar, while Pescheux picked out three sprinters in particular to contest the men’s classification.

“It’s a race for the sprinters, there are no big mountain passes in Qatar,” Pescheux explained. “Mark Cavendish is the number one when it comes to the sprints, but he will face some stiff competition from riders like Tom Boonen and Tyler Farrar.”

This year the men’s race begins with a short time trial in Doha, and Pescheux predicts that one of the biggest names in world cycling will be doing his utmost to showcase his talent.

“I think that Fabian Cancellara will give his all to take the first golden jersey of the tour on Sunday,” he said.

As the Tour of Qatar celebrates its tenth year of existence, Pescheux admitted that there is scope for the race route to develop further as the infrastructure of the host country continues to grow apace.

“We want to find new stages and locations,” he said. “By the time the [FIFA] World Cup comes here in 2020, there will be an even greater infrastructure and more potential locations, so it may no longer necessarily be a race based around one central location as it is now.”

The president of the Qatar Cycling Federation, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdullah Al Thani, paid tribute to the effect the Tour of Qatar has had on cycling in his country during its first decade of existence.

“When we started in 2002, we didn’t have any competitive international cyclists,” he said. “Now we are getting a lot of good results in the region.”

However, Al Thani ruled out the possibility of Qatar hosting the world championships in the near future, in spite of its recent successful bid to stage the 2020 World Cup.

“Our federation is only ten years old, so our home cyclists are not developed yet,” Al Thani explained. “For now, we’re enjoying having the best riders in the world come here once a year and we’re happy to send our athletes to compete in events such as the Asian Games.”

Al Thani is also pleased with the progress the Ladies Tour of Qatar has made in its brief existence, although he said it was too soon to gauge what impact it might have on women’s cycling in the country.

“Two years ago, people had the idea that the Ladies Tour of Qatar wouldn’t be welcomed for cultural reasons, but we are glad to show that Qatar welcomes sports people of each gender,” he said. “Sport should be available to everyone in every culture, men and women. Different cultures react differently to different sports, so we’ll see in the future what impact it has on women’s cycling here.”

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Barry Ryan
Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.