DUBAI // A winter shift towards the Middle East in recent years has helped to revive cycling, with the region increasingly becoming a vital stop for the leading riders.
That is the view of Alberto Contador, the Spanish rider whose road map towards a third Tour de France title later this year included competing in Oman last week.
In much the same way as the Desert Swing has become a popular – and lucrative – feature of golf's European Tour, cycling has also laid down roots in the Arabian Gulf.
Next year a Tour of Dubai is planned, in addition to the 11-year-old Tour of Qatar, and the Tour of Oman, which concluded its fourth edition on Saturday.
The quality of the field at each of the two Middle East races so far this year suggests the events are already held in high regard by the leading teams.
The Tour of Qatar was won by Mark Cavendish, the British sprint specialist who is a regular stage victor at the classics.
Then last week Chris Froome, the Team Sky leader, took victory in Oman ahead of Contador and Cadel Evans, the Australian.
Contador, for one, believes the same result from Muscat could be repeated on the podium at the Tour de France later this year.
And the Saxo-Tinkoff team leader believes the emergence of the Arabian Gulf as a cycling hub has helped the sport cope during a lean economic time in the sport's traditional heartlands.
"Of course when people here know more about cycling, more sponsors will put on races," Contador said.
"It is very good for the sport because in Europe many races are off because there are a lack of sponsors.
"At the moment this is perfect because at the start of the year the weather here is better. You can have very important riders here."
The atmosphere on the roads during the races in the region remains rather different, however. While the courses at the grand tours are usually lined with supporters, the riders have to be used to their own company for much of the time in the desert.
"It is very, very different because the culture of cycling is very different," Contador said. "But I am still very motivated. Look at the Tour of Oman, it had many of the top riders in the world. When you are in the race you are 100 per cent concentrating on the road. You have just the same motivation."
Most of the details of the 2014 Tour of Dubai – such as the course, the duration, and the date – are yet to be disclosed.
However, Nasser Ahman Al Rahma, from the community and private sector department of Dubai Sports Council, says the emirate is committed to the growth of cycling.
"There are going to be many more cycling events here as Dubai Sports Council is taking care of promoting this sport here," he said. "More cycling paths are going to be constructed. Dubai Sports Council is very interested in sponsoring local and international races."
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