The Abu Dhabi Tour closed on the F1 Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday after four stages, and the feeling is one of celebration.
Despite the heat wave that affected racing, those that made the trip to the Middle East at the end of the 2015 season felt it was worth their time and that they were apart of something much larger for cycling.
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“The race is important, the organisation was perfect,” Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) told Cycling Weekly, stood in the shade to escape the 40°C heat at the start of stage three.
“The only thing was that it was too hot. The rest, though, all was good. This race replaces the Tour of Beijing and helps cycling, given there are always fewer and fewer races.”
The first stage crawled through the Empty Quarter sand dunes. Riders could hardly push ahead in to the wave of heat that hit the UAE. Because of the conditions, and that the riders were behind schedule, organiser RCS Sport cut the finishing 14.5-kilometre circuit.
Riders continued to complain about the heat, but not so loudly because they accepted that the Abu Dhabi Tour is adding race days, money and promise to an often-hungry sport.
Over the last 10 years, cycling-strong nations have been crippled. Italy, home of RCS Sport, lost several of its top teams and top races. New nations, like Australia with its Tour Down Under, stepped up.
Tour de France organiser ASO expanded from its heartland to run the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman. RCS Sport became a player in the Middle East, too, starting with the Dubai Tour in 2014 and this week in neighbouring emirate, the Abu Dhabi Tour.
“Cycling transmits images of the country, so for the UAE, they are happy to have the race and proud to show the country off,” Lorenzo Giorgetti, CEO of RCS Sports and Events, explained.
“And they are huge sports fans. When you go to their homes, the TV is always on with a game. Everyone has a football squad that they cheer on in Spain, Italy or Great Britain.”
The Abu Dhabi Sports Council owns the races. It contracted with RCS Sport, organiser of the Giro d’Italia, to run their stage races for 10 years.
The council wanted the Abu Dhabi Tour to sit at the end year so they could also host a UCI gala, welcoming stars like Sky’s Chris Froome, and so that it could take the spot of the Tour of Beijing.
By 2017, with the new calendar, Giorgetti would like to see his 2.1-ranked race in the WorldTour, and the cyclists would be happy for the race to succeed.
“I actually asked to come here,” Sky’s Ben Swift said. “It’s nice to get a bit of sun on your back even if it is quite intense. In England this time of year, it starts to get quite grim.”
Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), who won the queen stage on Saturday to position himself to win the overall, was certainly happy to come to Abu Dhabi.
“It’s important because the cycling is starting to be more global, not just in one continent like in the past,” Chaves said.
“The team asked me in January, and I said I wanted to go. Would I come again? For sure!”