x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dubai Tour still finding its place in city’s consciousness

American cyclist Phinney makes history by winning first stage in inaugural race

Taylor Phinney of team BMC celebrates winning the first stage of the inaugural Dubai Tour on Wednesday. Christopher Pike / The National
Taylor Phinney of team BMC celebrates winning the first stage of the inaugural Dubai Tour on Wednesday. Christopher Pike / The National

In many ways, Dubai and professional cycling seem an unnatural fit.

Take the scene near the start/finish line on Wednesday where the teams parked their vans and fussed over a collection of the world’s most finely chiselled athletes. The likes of Mark Cavendish, Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara warmed up and warmed down in full view of an Elevation Burger outlet, a McDonalds and a Burger Fuel.

While Taylor Phinney, the eventual winner, was clocking top speeds in excess of 60kph just around the corner, besuited businessmen tucked into 12-inch Hawaiians in Pizza Express in wondrous ignorance.

This might not have been the only show in town. It was not even the only show in the street, to be honest.

The majority of the crowd on the World Trade Centre concourse seemed more bothered by the stash they were receiving from their respective conferences than the elite professional sporting event happening right in front of them.

But, at the very least, there was some intrigue, which is a decent enough start for a sport that is trying to expand its footprint in this city.

“And they are professionals, you say?” one businessman asked another about the anonymous superstars whizzing by in a whir of skin-tight hypercolour. “Well, that is fascinating.”

For some, general intrigue translated as general confusion. The Dubai Tour is certainly making a mark on the city’s traffic flow.

Schools had been alerted to the fact that some roads will be closed this week, although which ones exactly will be shut is still open to speculation.

“The race commences at 1pm today, but we are unsure as to what time the roads will actually be closed,” one school wrote in a missive to parents about the “Dubai Road Race”.

For a sport still battling to be recognised as having a valid claim on roads in the city, it probably felt good to get one up on the motorists for once.

This was definitely a case of two wheels good, four wheels bad. The racers made light of the speed bumps that proliferated Wednesday’s layout, and yet many of the support cars that followed the competitors were forced to slow to a crawl. In particular, the Audis that followed the SkyDive Dubai team were virtually stopped at every speed bump, for fear of damaging the undercarriage.

Not that all the riders were totally enthused by their first day out in Dubai, having been ordered to use standard road bikes rather than those better suited to time trials.

“First stage of Dubai Tour today – 10km time trial on standard road bikes,” Cavendish tweeted before setting off as the 111th rider in a field of 127 competitors. “I might just take a detour through the Dubai Mall.”

Maybe he did. It is a nightmare finding your way back out of that place, and the “Manx Missile” did finish nearly a minute behind Phinney.

Cavendish led out a wave of riders that read like a Who’s Who of cycling’s elite.

After the British star followed Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Cancellara and Vincenzo Nibali, each of whom has greater plans at the grand tours later this year.

Next through the starting gate? Yousuf Mirza, the leading rider in the UAE’s national team. He was just happy to be in such gilded company.

“I didn’t feel any pressure,” Mirza said. “This is the first time we had competed at this level, so we wanted to measure the standard we are at.

“We must try, we must fight, and we have a responsibility to show the UAE have a team.

“It was hard for us, the first time that we are racing against professional teams, but we are very happy and proud with how we have done.

“The Dubai Tour will be a good chance for us to improve from amateur to professional cycling. It is all we want: to show the world we can cycle here in Dubai.”