With more stages, classifications and interest in the event than ever before, the 2017 Dubai Tour was another huge success – which bodes well for the race’s future. Words by Gruffudd Owen
It was a case of Dubai deja-vu for cycling fans in February as Germany’s Marcel Kittel defended his crown at the 2017 edition of the Dubai Tour.
However, while it may have been a familiar face crossing the City Walk finishing line first at the climax of the 124km-long final stage, the truth is that the most recent staging of this annual road cycling race had a decidedly different – and grander – feel to it compared to last year.
First rated as a 2.1 race by the UCI for its inaugural edition in 2014, the Tour was quickly upgraded to 2.HC – the highest-ranking category – in 2015, and has retained this lofty status ever since.
Couple in the fact that it always succeeds in drawing in some of the sport’s most recognisable names – two-time winner Kittel and the highly-decorated British veteran sprinter Mark Cavendish to name but two – and it’s clear that the event has firmly established itself as a key fixture in the cycling calendar.
However, 2017 has seen the race become even bigger. An increase in both the number of stages and classifications from four to five reflects its importance as a major event in elite-level sprint cycling, while the entirety of this year’s final stage was also televised.
The sight of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, watching the opening stage of the Tour roadside only adds to the sense that the race is growing in prestige with each passing year, and with UAE Abu Dhabi winning the newly-created team classification, the significance of the Tour on a local level cannot be ignored either.
The exploits of the team – and in particular those of Yousif Mirza, one of the country’s leading cyclists and a participant in the Olympic road race at Rio 2016 – have gone a long way to boosting cycling’s popularity in Dubai.
This year’s Mini Dubai Tour – a junior event featuring some of the UAE’s most promising cyclists – will feature 1,030 competitors, a 243% increase compared to 2016, while it was also recently announced that 105km of new cycle paths are to be laid down in the city, a USD40 million investment that forms part of the Dubai Government’s ‘Cycling Master Plan’, an initiative which aims to encourage greater participation in cycling as a means of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
2018 will mark the fifth anniversary of the race. To develop so quickly in such a short space of time hints towards a promising – and hugely exciting – future for the Dubai Tour.