Middle East Peace Tour 'great opportunity' for mixing cycling and cultures

The new amateur event will cover 681km in seven days across the Middle East

The inaugural Middle East Peace Tour in 2018 will be a "great opportunity" for sportive cyclists experience new lands and cultures over seven days.

In the last week, cyclists completed a test run from Amman, south through Jordan, over to Israel along the Egyptian border and up to Jerusalem via Palestine. They mixed cycling with varied cultures and stopped at famed sites like Petra, the Ramon creator and Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate.

"One of the things I like in cycling is seeing and meeting a lot of people, cultures and being in a different countries on your bike," Dutch Orica cyclist Annemiek Van Vleuten said. "It is a great opportunity for me. I thought, why not?!

"It's really special for the people here to see bike riders, they never saw them. The children touching the bikes. Also, it's even more special for them to see women on bikes."

She sat on her black Scott carbon bike on the sun-drenched Israeli roads next to the Ramon Creator. Around 15 sportive riders from varying levels made up her group in the Middle East for the 2017 test event.

Austrian Gerhard Schönbacher stood near by. The former professional from the 1970s and 1980s, who finished twice lanterne rouge in the Tour de France, started Crocodile Trophy in Australia and Alpen Tour in Austria. His attention turns now turns to one of the world's most storied lands.

The sportive stage is a tool to "transport peace through sport," said Schönbacher. "We've had so many requests already even if we haven't put anything on our website."

Sportive cyclists used to spinning down English lanes, across California's hills or through Italy's valleys might worry about terrorism or the tension between Israel and its neighbours. One cannot deny it exists. The Easter church bombings two weeks before forced Schönbacher to cancel plans for short stage in Egypt.

"We have two things that we are concentrating on, first to secure the race according to UCI regulations, closing off the roads, et cetera, then the general security," added Schönbacher.

"Each country, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Palestine will look after that. We can only trust them and I think they have good knowledge to do so. And of course, 100% security can't exist as we know from Europe."

The 2018 tour, 681 kilometres from March 9 to 15, will travel south from the capital city Amman south through Jordan for three days. The initial plans were for the stage four time trial to cross the Israeli/Egyptian border, but because of complications, it will instead run for 25 kilometres entirely in Taba just over the border in Egypt.

The IS problems fall much further west into Egypt near Cairo. During our visit over the border one night for dinner, the area appeared safe and suited for a short stage. The Egyptians' friendliness, and overall perception on the ground in the Middle East, washed away any pre-event fears.

"Exactly, when I came to this country three years ago, when I went to Palestine. You have these things in your head, what you read about it, but when you walk in people say, 'Welcome to Palestine!' and invited us for drinks on the street. So I said, 'Wow, I must have learned something wrong from the media!'

"People are friendly, 99% of the people want to have Peace, no one wants to have war. They want to have a normal life, children, family, they want to have a job and they want to have food."

The event is unique with its planned UCI ranking similar to some Gran Fondos and as one of the few sportive stage races, with others like Houte Route. For the inaugural event, Schönbacher plans to welcome around 500 cyclists from around the world.

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.