The 2016 racing calendar now includes several races in the Middle East, including the Dubai Tour, Tour of Oman and the Tour of Qatar. However, racing and riding on the smooth flat roads in searing heat has led to a fair amount of criticism from pro riders and television viewers alike.
Despite the perceived negatives of riding in such a climate there is a growing and vibrant cycling community.
Cycling Weekly spoke to riders living in the Middle East to find out what makes cycling in the Levant appealing.
Amy Carter followed her husband James Carter into cycling and road racing. She explained to Cycling Weekly that the facilities alone are phenomenal.
“Cycling here is truly amazing!” she said.
“We have smooth roads, great facilities like the Yas Marina Circuit (Formula One track), which opens the track up to the public three nights a week for runners and cyclists, as well as dedicated cycling tracks like Al Wathba track in Abu Dhabi and Al Qudra in Dubai.”
On a Tuesday night the motor circuit is open for four hours and attracts thousands of people, and the session on Wednesday is for women only.
Carter explained that there are lots of different cycling clubs and teams in the UAE and her club, YAS Cycles, provides the kind of the support you could only hope for in the UK if you were a pro.
“At YAS Cycles we have the luxury of having a support car which follows our weekly rides and the shop also supports RAHA Cycling, one of the largest cycling groups in Abu Dhabi, with the same during their weekly organised rides.”
The RAHA Cycling group was launched in 2009, has over 60 members, gets up to 30 riders across three groups at the weekend and has a no-drop policy.
Founding member Kevin Duell believes the RAHA set up is a great introduction to cycling in the region. “I organise group cycling every weekend to help provide safe and predictable rides in what can be a challenging environment,” he said.
A frequent criticism of cycling in the region is that the views of solely flat desert are hardly inspiring, but regular RAHA rider John Millington dispels this opinion:
“The scenery varies in parts from long open rolling deserts such as Liwa,” he said, “to the rugged mountains of Hatta or the urban cities scrapes of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, within a short distance on a ride you can experience most, if not all.”
However, Millington accepts that the climate is a challenge.
“The extremes in temperature can be challenging especially during the hotter summer months.”
Carter agrees, but says there are ways around the soaring tempratures.
“In the summer it can reach temperatures of up 50 degrees in the day so to get round this we have to be on the road for 5.30am and off of it by 9.30am.”
According to Millington the cycling community is quite diverse and not just limited to expats.
“Socially you can mix with many different nationalities with a common cause, both local and expatriate residents. There are some great purpose built cycling facilities for beginners to the more experienced rider to enjoy, in a safe controlled environment.”
Road racer Helen Martin lives in the UAE and is a fan of riding in a bunch.
“I enjoy the freedom that you get in the UAE when you are cycling,” she said. “I run a lot and also do triathlon, but I find that for me, cycling here is a great way to explore with others. I like being able to easily cover a larger distance when out on the bike with a group.”
Fellow road racer, and track rider, Claire Myers is impressed by the professional nature of the races and enjoys the hot weather.
“I love the racing side of being in the UAE. The organised races here are well put together and are very well supported. You have the ability to train all year round, and the winter is just perfect for getting the kilometres in on the bike. The only downside is that we are yet to have a velodrome!”
The Abu Dhabi and Dubai Sports Councils organise numerous cycling events and are said to be really pushing healthy living and fitness.
YAS Cycles holds bi-weekly races in association with Gulf Multi Sport at the Al Wathba motor circuit track in the evenings. The victors of the first series of races each won an Eddy Merckx bike.
There are also lots of regional races and challenges which happen throughout the year such as Spinneys 92, Liwa challenge and the Adnoc challenge. The spread of races are designed to appeal to elite racers as well as those new to the sport.
Bike shop owner Willem Verhaert has lived in the UAE for nine years and has noticed cycling going from strength to strength.
“As people’s interest in cycling has got greater,” he said, “the demand for facilities and bike shops has hugely increased.”