Professional cycling will have a new ‘desert race’ next season, following the announcement by Giro d’Italia organisers, the RCS, that the Abu Dhabi Tour will be held for the first time in October 2015.
The UAE is likely to join its neighbours, Qatar, Dubai, and Oman, in hosting professional cycling’s biggest teams, although the race will not be part of the UCI WorldTour. Its 2.1 status also prevents it from being considered a direct replacement for the Tour of Beijing, which was held for the final time in October.
The Dubai Tour got off to a clean start with victory for the marketable Taylor Phinney. The RCS will hope for similar success with its Abu Dhabi Tour, planned for October 2015
Announcing the race, which will contain four stages and be held next year from Thursday October 8 to Sunday October 11, Lorenzo Giorgetti, Director of RCS Sports and Events JLT, spoke of a focus on “new international markets”. It will follow one of the oldest races on the calendar, the Giro di Lombardia.
Professional cycling has gained a foothold in the Middle East in recent years, and has brought success to some of the sport’s biggest names. The Tour of Qatar was held for the thirteenth consecutive year this season, and has proved a happy hunting ground for Tom Boonen and the various incarnations of his Quickstep team. Team Sky’s Chris Froome notched a second consecutive overall victory in February at the Tour of Oman, becoming the first repeat winner in the race's five editions.
This year’s inaugural Dubai Tour was widely considered a success, and a second edition will be held in February. With victory for young American, Taylor Phinney (BMC), the race – another in the RCS portfolio – got off to a clean start and provided organisers with a marketable poster boy for the following edition.
Professional cycling already has three Middle Eastern engagements. The Abu Dhabi Tour will add a fourth
Cycling’s international expansion comes amid the demise of some of the most historic races of its European heartland, and while the trend is unlikely to please diehard fans, it is one followed with success by others, notably by Formula One, which this year ended its own season in Abu Dhabi (the spectacular Yas Marina circuit is rumoured as a venue for a stage finish for the Abu Dhabi Tour. The four-stage parcours will be unveiled next June).
The new race, however, is likely to please the sponsors, who will gain extra coverage for their investment, and the teams are unlikely to complain. While a season-closing trip to Beijing was never likely to win favour, the journey from Lombardy to the UAE is approximately half the distance. It offers the considerable advantage of almost guaranteed good weather too, and in this regard might serve the teams as a winter warm down, much as the early-season Middle Eastern races offer a gentle transition from warm weather training to full competition.
Time will tell if the Abu Dhabi Tour is a success. Like all others, it will rise or fall on the quality of its competitors and parcours; the standard of the racing will follow as a consequence. Given the experience of the organisers, it is unlikely to suffer logistical difficulties. With a slot at the end of the season, rather than at the beginning, it may catch the teams still at full gas.