The great and the good of the cycling world have descended on the UAE to be a part of the inaugural Dubai Tour event
Mark Cavendish is no stranger to Dubai. Nevertheless the British sprint cyclist, widely considered to be the fastest road cyclist in the world, never imagined that one day he’d be swapping his shorts and t-shirt for a Lycra bodysuit, and competing for a title on the emirate’s palm-fringed roads.
“I’ve been to Dubai on holiday, so I was very excited when I heard there was going to be a race here,” he says. “The places we’re going, the courses we’ve got, is going to be pretty spectacular for a cycle race.”
Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step team is among the favourites for an event that boasts a veritable who’s-who of cycling talent including reigning Road World Champion Alberto Rui Costa, 2013 Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali, and Slovakian superstar Peter Sagan.
Over four days, 128 riders will zigzag across the emirate, from the highways and skyscrapers of Sheikh Zayed Road, to the bustling banks of Dubai Creek, to the wide-open desert. A total of 16 teams will tussle for the Dubai Tour title, including 11 UCI Pro Teams, the top three of the 2013 Asia Tour, and the UAE national team, which is making its Pro Tour debut.
“It’s the first time for us, for our team, to be racing with professionals, and we want to show to the people that we can race against the world’s best,” says Yousif Mirza, the captain of the UAE national team.
An Arab, Arabian Gulf and national road champion, the 24-year-old spent a month in Portugal with his teammates to prepare for the Dubai Tour. And while he is under no illusions as to the size of the task ahead, he is confident that he and his teammates will not be overawed by the quality of the competition.
“It will be a big experience for the team and for me personally,” he smiles. “We’re not going to win, but it’s a chance to show the world that cycling is a big sport here in the UAE. Dubai always has the eyes of the world on it, but this is another opportunity to show what we can do,” Mirza explains.
“I have seen in the last year or two that cycling is growing hugely in Dubai,” he adds. “With government support and better facilities including tracks for training, there is a much better chance for people to become involved in cycling. We’re not at the level of some European cities just yet, but we are definitely making progress and in the next five years we could see a real difference.”