7,000km, 13 countries and three months of cycling: French pair ride to Qatar to watch the World Cup

The journey took French pair Gabriel Martin and Mehdi Balamissa through 13 countries on journey of a lifetime

(Image credit: @Mondialavelo)

Many football fans would go to any lengths to watch their team play, of course. But French pair Gabriel Martin and Mehdi Balamissa took fandom to another level when they rode 7,300 kilometres (4,350 miles) from Paris to Doha to watch their national team play at the Qatar World Cup.

The journey, which took them through 13 countries, lasted three months, despite their healthy 115km (71 miles) daily distance on the bikes.

Both 26, the pair are no stranger to combining their twin enjoyment of both cycling and football, having already ridden from France to Italy to watch 'Les Bleus' play in the UEFA Nations League last year. But this was an altogether different undertaking.

They began their trip at the Stade de France in Paris, riding south east through Europe to Turkey, then across Cyprus, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia before reaching their destination.

“It was a crazy idea, but we’re the kind of people that have big ideas and don’t want to have any regrets,” Balamissa told CNN after their arrival in Qatar.

“So, since we are both self-employed, we decided to block off three months of our time and come to Qatar.”

Amazingly, they weren't the only ones to have such an idea – along the way they met a Briton and a Dutchman who were both making the same pilgrimage.

On the final day into Doha, the Qatari capital city, they were joined by a small peloton of both French expats and Qatari riders – including one from the country's national team. With four kilometres left they were even joined by the French ambassador to Qatar, dressed in cycling kit, they explained on their @mondialavelo instagram page.

France may be reigning champions at the tournament, having beaten Croatia 4-2 in the final when it was held in Russia in 2018, but there was always the concern that, after all that cycling, France might flop – after all they were knocked out in the first round in 2002 despite being reigning champs. Thankfully for the pair, the French team have so far performed well at the tournament, winning their first two games and qualifying for the second round. 

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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields. 

Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.

A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now behind him. But he still rides regularly, both on the road and on the gravelly stuff.