The news that ASO has decided to cancel both the men and women’s editions of the upcoming Tour of Qatar due to lack of support on the sponsorship side won’t come as a surprise to many given the almost complete lack of spectators that these events and, most particularly, October’s World Championships in the Gulf state attracted.
After all, sponsors crave nothing less than an audience.
First run in 2002 as a five-stage men’s race and complemented since 2009 as a four-stage women’s event, the Qatari races have not been without supporters.
Riders, notably Classics specialists and sprinters, flocked to them because of the warm-weather and competitive racing they offered very early in the season.
Being based in a single and very good hotel for the duration of these events also made them popular.
The media relished them for much the same reasons. A week or two in Qatar meant access to many of cycling’s major names in a place where there was little else to distract them. The result was an interview bonanza and some of the most unique photos of the entire season.
Consequently, some will certainly miss these events, and this disappointment will be felt most especially on the women’s side of the sport.
The Qatari race was well-organised and well-covered on television, and for that reason alone its disappearance leaves a significant gap in the women’s calendar.
Yet, the wider legacy of these races and the Doha Worlds is negligible. While it could be argued that the Tour of Qatar has encouraged the emergence of other races in the region, such as the Tour of Oman, the Dubai Tour and the Abu Dhabi Tour, there is little evidence of a significant impact on competitive cycling in Qatar.
The country fielded just three riders at the Worlds – two juniors who failed to finish the road race and a senior who finished 60th in the men’s time trial.
In addition, not a single home racer featured in the national tours this year, which Qatar finished in penultimate place in the UCI’s team rankings, with only Macedonia below it.
The lack of spectator numbers at the Worlds only emphasized cycling’s failure to make an impact in Qatar and the ridiculousness of the UCI’s decision to host its showcase event there.
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It was, one photographer told me, the first World Championships where spectators at the junior road races outnumbered those for the elite, thanks to the presence of lots of proud parents.
Quite how the Tour of Qatar managed to gain promotion to the WorldTour on the back of that is difficult to understand.
What the Tour of Qatar emphasises, above all, is that money alone can’t provide the foundation for the establishment of a sport, and that popular local support is absolutely essential. Without that, these races were always living on borrowed time.