DUBAI // A group of cyclists will make a long and arduous ride through Turkey to raise funds for Palestinian refugees.
The Cycling4Gaza initiative, which hopes to raise £200,000 (Dh1.2 million), will take a team of 35 from more than five countries, including 16 from the UAE, around the rustic coastline of the Sea of Marmara. The ride starts today in Bandirma and will finish at Istanbul's Blue Mosque three days later.
Mohammed Tahboub, 28, who cycled around Jordan for the same cause last year, was unsure of what lay ahead. "I don't know the elevation," said the regional sales manger from Palestine.
The group has partnered with a local tour operator, which planned the entire trip. Participants paid Dh2,315 for food an lodging.
"I can imagine it will be hilly," Mr Tahboub said. "I know there are hills on the route but I don't have the facts and figures. The last one was to the Dead Sea and that was 350km and was an excellent experience even if there was fair bit of elevation. Turkey will be harder."
From July, the group met three times a week for training.
"We started as late as possible during the day," Mr Tahboub said.
Although temperatures have dropped for those training locally, the routine has not gotten any easier. At the Nad Al Sheeba cycle track in Dubai, the cyclists cover 50 to 60 kilometres every Saturday. During the week, they would get hill practice at the Dubai Autodrome. On Friday mornings, the group trained with Cycle Safe Dubai for 84km ride into the desert.
Tania Jarjur, from the US, had to make do with spinning classes to add hours to her time on the saddle in order to keep up with the group.
The corporate lawyer said there were few proper cycling facilities in the capital, where she lives. By the time she finished work, it was too late to ride at Yas Marina Circuit's open track days. She travelled to Dubai every weekend to train with the group.
"It was a way to meet the group," Ms Jarjur, 27, said. "It's a great group of people and much easier to be motivated. The training is intense on Fridays but it's a great track. When I'd wake at 4am I wonder why I'm up. Once you're out there it all makes sense."
The UAE group was a "mixed bag", according to Mr Tahboub, and got together either through word of mouth or social media.
"We're all cycling for a cause which we all believe in. The main part is to raise awareness that there's still a situation in Gaza," he said. Funds raised will go to Medical Aid for Palestinians. He said donations could be still made at cycling4gaza.com.
Ms Jarjur said she was not looking forward to the endless hours in the saddle but she said the company should make up for it.
"I'm really looking forward to working with like minded people, face a challenge together and motivate each other to get though it."