It's back to using small family cars and getting changed at the side of the road for pro cyclists at the Tour of Qatar

The Tour of Qatar turns back the clock to a time when team buses did not exist in professional cycling.

Cyclists and staff agree that the sport has advanced enough where team buses are a necessity. Only in the Middle East – and other corners of the world outside Europe – can the sport now get away with simpler transportation.

“I don’t know how the pros did it before,” Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) said. “I’ll have to talk to Eddy [Merckx].”

In Qatar, each team uses Volkswagen Polos for its riders. They must change in the cramped quarters or outside on the side of the road before and after the stage. It is something unseen in big European races, at least since the 1990s.

“When I was in the under 23s, we still had a van with no way of showering or doing our laundry. I washed my clothing until I joined Mapei in 2000,” Cancellara explained.

“In Qatar, the weather’s better, you have less focus. Travelling to the stages here in small cars is uncomfortable at times, but it’s OK for a smaller race like this.”

Cofidis team during the 2015 Tour of Qatar

Cofidis riders sort out their team kit at the roadside

“We have to have buses in Europe, we spend so much time in transfers, more than in the hotels or racing sometimes,” Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) said.

“It wouldn’t be bad to have small buses even in Qatar so that we are not changing in front of the public. In Europe, changing in the street is not so bad, but here you can get in trouble for it.”

“The best is showering quickly after, especially in extreme weather, really cold or warm. You’re happy to have the bus,” added Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing).

“The worst thing about them is being stuck in traffic, it’s quicker in a car at times.

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“These races turn the clock back, but in Europe, the buses are [useful for] marketing, travelling the world on the highway and everyone sees them. Or at the race, everyone is there and takes pictures or films the buses.”

In the big races, like the Tour de France, riders tend to stay in their air-conditioned buses with music, toilets and espresso machines until the last minute ahead of signing the start sheet and racing. Afterwards, they ride to the bus and immediately climb in, only showing their faces again for an interview or an autograph.

“The buses isolate the riders from the fans,” said BMC sports director Valerio Piva, who raced in 1980s.

“Before it was too much, arriving in the main square with fans swarming the team cars while you changed or had a team meeting. Now, many times, it’s too much in the opposite extreme and they are seen less.”