QATAR BLOG DAY ONE – SATURDAY JANUARY 27
SUITE AS, BABY
The first sprint of the Tour of Qatar was not a pretty one. It was fuelled more by adrenalin than by form, and it’s fair to say that this early in the season the protagonists weren’t at peak fitness.
It involved one Cycling Weekly writer – me – and Belgian photographer Luc ‘Itsh Luc’ Claessen in a slow-motion dash across Heathrow Terminal three, pants flying out of luggage and our breathing loud and ragged enough to make people stare.
Five minutes earlier we had been enjoying a strong Americano at a well-known chain of cultural imperialists, while I texted Watford-based workmates to remind them that by the day’s end we would be drinking gin Martinis with Sheikhs in a plush hotel bar while they would likely be feasting on a kebab.
A glance up at the departures board showed that flight QR6 to Doha (aptly abbrieviated to DOH) was not only boarding, but closing, and we were the wrong side of security. With thousands of slack-jawed, dead-eyed tourists forming a human wall between us and Gate Five, our work was going to be cut out to get there on time.
It didn’t help that Luc is relaxed under pressure. While I fidgeted around after security, Luc slowly bent down to put one shoe on. Lace tied, nice and deliberate. And on with the other one. Yes, just make sure it’s on correctly. Maybe wiggle your foot around just to make sure it is ab-so-lute-ly comfortable. There really is no luxury in the world like a well-fitting pair of shoes. Now for a pleasant stroll to the departure gate.
Unfortunately for laid-back Luc, a combination of caffeine-induced anxiety on my part and the very real prospect of us missing our flight led me to suggest, in a strangled voice, that we run.
A few minutes later we were on a packed plane, sweaty and incapable of speech. It was close enough for me to have Plan B set out in my mind. Go back home, hole up for a few days with some canned food and bottled water, and file race reports from there. This is an idea stolen from another well-known cycling journalist, and it works.
Now we are settled into the Carlton Ritz in Doha, a hotel which is so luxurious that even the Quick Step team are in a good mood. When I entered my room I thought that there had been some terrible mistake. In fact, it’s not a room, it’s a suite, with sofas, a swanky desk (I’ve nicked some headed notepaper), a fruitbowl, two televisions, and a wardrobe that is as big as some hotel rooms I’ve stayed in.
It?’s a two-minute walk from the door to the bed. It feels like we’re a long way from the stink of scandal that’s been hanging around Belgian cycling for the last few days. Whether the Tour of Qatar can continue to avoid the ructions and accusations remains to be seen. It’s not quite Puerto and the Tour de France, but it’s still been a demoralising way to start the season.
Tomorrow sees the first stage of the race, a leisurely team time trial up and down the sea front in Doha, and the first outing of the season for 80 or so ProTour riders, plus a motley selection of local riders and Continental chancers. But this is just a warm-up for the main event – Boonen versus Petacchi round one on Monday. The feeling in the hotel bar is that Petacchi is not the same rider as he was before he broke his kneecap.
Anyway, note to the editor. We’ve got broadband here and the bar serves Cognac. I’ll not be coming back to the office.