x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dubai cyclists put their pedals to the medal test

Dubai athletes take the chance to gauge their personal performances against those of their Olympic heroes.

Many of Dubai's cyclists are taking a keen interest in the London Olympics.
Many of Dubai's cyclists are taking a keen interest in the London Olympics.

As thousands of spectators line the streets of London to watch the world's best go for gold, hundreds of cyclists from Dubai will be tuning in to see how far off the mark they are.

Despite the soaring summer heat, cyclists still clip in their cleats and ride their bikes for hours every day. Some go hard and some just for fun.

"If I watch other sports such as rugby or football there is no metric to compare," said Neil Bathe, an avid cyclist who went to watch the Tour of Oman this year. "In biking we can compare metrics and see how far we are from achieving. And it's a total, complete freakout."

One mountain stage in the Tour de France, which had several Olympians competing, had three major peaks in the 250-kilometre leg. The peloton, as the field of riders are known, clocked an average 32 kph.

"The average speed was faster than what we ride to Bab Al Shams on the flat," Mr Bathe said.

Yet all those kms in the saddle have given him some understanding of what the Olympians will be going through during the men's road race around London on July 28.

"If looking for a comparison, you can certainly understand the difference between you and a world-class performer," he said.

Andrea Clement, who cycles at any given opportunity, knows too well what it was like to compete in the international arena. Injury kept her from representing Canada in judo at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

"Athletes at a high level have similar abilities of mental toughness and desire to push their limits, and are able to focus on one thing and able to make it," she said. Ms Clement is part of the cycling groups that take off at 6am every weekend for Bab Al Shams and beyond.

"For these rides, they still push themselves but it's nothing compared to the stringent element of Olympic athletes," she said. "Some people here still enjoy life and working - but when it comes to an Olympian it becomes your whole life.

"With extra training on top of your sport, the psychology and nutrition behind it is a different level. I try to push myself on the bike but nothing compared to the level they [Olympians] go to."

Carl Howarth, who cycles hundreds of kilometres on a monthly basis, said he will be watching Team GB go for gold.

"What British cycling has done with all the money and sponsorship means it now has very good riders with [Bradley] Wiggins and [Mark] Cavendish. Hopes are very high for a gold medal," he said.

Mr Howarth said when he began cycling, he did not think he could keep up with a work colleague who used to ride up to 90km every weekend.

"When I started it was such an easy way to do aerobic exercises and without getting absolutely knackered. It was first, 'how could someone do that' and then, 'why can't anyone do that'," he said.

For Mr Bathe, cycling is more of a social activity. "Basically it's fitness done in a fun way that is enjoyable; non-impact with a great bunch of guys, " he said.

When cycling in a group, three hours passes quickly.

"You are seeing parts of Dubai you would not possibly see and with like-minded people.

It gives you an appreciation of your limited talents. When you see the speeds they [professionals] do and the amount of mileage with the frequency of day after day." Mr Bathe said.

eharnan@thenational.ae