Doha is proving ready to host the first cycling World Championships in the Middle East in 2016 with a series of high-profile events and the Tour of Qatar.
On Saturday, the federation of the oil-rich Persian Gulf state will announce the routes and dates, which will possibly be in October due to the heat. Racing and sports organisation, however, is already underway.
Tour de France organiser, ASO is running two back-to-back stage races in Qatar in February. This week, women are racing the seventh edition of the Ladies Tour of Qatar. On Saturday, cycling’s elite including Bradley Wiggins arrive for the well-established men’s six-day tour. The men’s Tour of Qatar began in 2002 and made itself invaluable in for those preparing for the spring one-day classics.
The country lacks cycling fans and history, but the wind, if it is strong as it usually is across the peninsula, makes the racing as hard and technical as it is in the northern one-day classics.
Cycling in the barren sand-swept countryside does not feel so foreign as it did when the race began 13 years ago or even when rumours emerged in 2011 that Qatar wanted to host cycling’s championships.
The national cycling federation did not exist properly before 2002, but with Doha hosting the 2006 Asian Games, one had to exist to prepare the country’s athletes. The Tour of Qatar, which had national teams for a few years, helped.
“As a sport, cycling’s fairly new to the country, but we want to have all of the sports practiced in the Summer Olympics and to understand what we need to have the sport at the highest level,” Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani, president of the federation, explained.
“We began the Tour of Qatar, which works in both ways for us to understand how to organise such an event and to help the cycling in the region by introducing this kind of high level.”
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Doha was unsuccessful to win bids for the 2016 and the 2020 Olympics, but it is trying again for 2024. In order to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it is hosting several top-level events.
On Sunday, France beat Qatar playing in the Handball Championships hosted on home soil. Coming up, Qatar has the boxing championships, the World Athletics Championships and the big one, the 2022 Football World Cup.
With the money coming from its petroleum and natural gas production, Qatar can afford to organise the events properly. Human rights groups have filed complaints about the state’s treatment of its foreign workers building stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup, but competitions continue. This Sunday, FC Barcelona will play a friendly match in one of Qatar’s 12 World Cup stadiums.
The events and success of the Tour of Qatar are assuring those in cycling that the World Championships will be in good hands in the Middle East.