DUBAI // Cycling could certainly do with a fillip and Dubai appears perfectly placed to provide it following the announcement the emirate will host a stage race in the spring of 2014 as part of a long-term strategy to develop the sport in the UAE.
Courtesy of recent doping scandals - most prominently that of last October which saw Lance Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles - there are few sports with a reputation quite as tainted.
Yet Dubai, keen to become a two-wheels-and-no-engine racing destination, launched its cycling course close to Bab Al Shams resort on Friday.
Officials say they plan to make the 2014 Dubai Tour event "bigger and better" than that of their Gulf neighbours Qatar and Oman.
"Dubai always does things in the best manner possible and I assure you that the Dubai Tour will be a force," said Rashid Al Kamali, head of marketing and communication at Dubai Sports Council. "It will be something greater than what's been seen anywhere else in the world."
On Friday, Alberto Contador, Ryder Hesjedal and Vincenzo Nibali - all three of whom have triumphed at a grand tour event - took to the 68km circuit for a one kilometre time trial, which Contador won.
Osama Al Shafar, president of the UAE Cycling Federation, said attracting such high-profile cyclists will benefit the emirate's quest.
"By bringing here world champions it is going to push the sport of cycling big time in this country," he said. "I'm looking forward to the next step, which is the Tour of Dubai. That will be something huge for the sport here."
The event will mark the first time the UAE has appeared on the International Cycling Union calendar and although specific dates and details are not expected to be decided until later this year, Contador said he expects it to provide "a big boost for the sport in Dubai".
Nibali, the Italian rider who won the 2010 Vuelta a Espana, said he is anticipating a successful staging.
"In Dubai, we have seen all sports being held and it is nice to see that cycling, too, will make its mark soon," he said. "It is a good start right away by deciding to bring in top stars."
Al Kamali clarified that while the new Dubai Cycling Course was created to appeal to families rather than elite athletes, the target remains to one day produce a cyclist who can dominate globally.
"Our objective is to create Olympic champions here in the UAE and we would like to create the next Contador, Hesjedal or Nibali," he said. "That's our long-term goal.
"We've got to create the environment for that to happen."
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