Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) says "it's a bleak World Championships" without many fans in Doha, Qatar, this week.
Dumoulin is a favourite for the Worlds time trial gold medal today after placing second in the Olympics.
"I just saw a sign 'spectator entrance' which I found quite hilarious actually," Dumoulin told Dutch news group NOS on Tuesday after training. "There are simply no fans. That's weird. It's a bleak World Championships."
The UCI agreed to host the worlds with the petroleum-rich Arab state in 2012, when Pat McQuaid presided over cycling's governing body.
Qatar is pushing to host the Olympics eventually having already made bids for the 2016, 2020 and 2024 Games. The worlds this week, the 2019 World Athletics Championships and the FIFA World Cup in 2022 are paving the way for the country's dream.
Local organisers’ budgets for cycling's World Championships ranged from €12 to €32 million in recent years. Bergen, Norway, reportedly has a €20.3 million total budget for the 2017 Worlds.
They must pay the UCI to host the event. Details are kept secret, but they tend to pay the governing body between €5 and €10 million for the right. Doha may have paid €10 million given its lack of cycling culture, hot temperatures and distance from cycling’s European heartland.
Qatar has a long history hosting its national tour, the Tour of Qatar, but since 2002 has started the race in February when temperatures are lower. Few fans watch roadside, but that is accepted as it is a HC-ranked race (next year WorldTour) and not the World Championships.
"Whether I think this World Championships is a travesty? If I say yes, then there is tomorrow's headline in the newspaper: 'Dumoulin mocks Worlds.' So I won't say...” added Dumoulin.
"It's always one of the biggest events in the year, but that is absolutely not the case [this year] and that is because of the lack of atmosphere."
In recent days, television footage showed the sparse public along the race course. On Monday, the local organiser posted on Twitter a photograph of a French fan at his 27th worlds, but followers were quick to note he was alone."
More fans should arrive ahead of the men's road race on Sunday. Prices and the distance, however, make it difficult for many Europeans to attend.
Cycling great Eddy Merckx, who organises the Tour of Qatar with Dirk De Pauw, helped the local organiser with its bid.
“Qatar deserved the worlds,” said Merckx this week. “More fans will arrive, but you can't expect the same turn out that you'd have in Europe, but it will increase.”
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