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Abu Dhabi to host UCI road race in October

Abu Dhabi officials announced the four-day Abu Dhabi Tour, the latest in a series of races in the oil-rich Middle East

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Abu Dhabi will host a four-day race in October in what is the latest chapter in a decade-long boom in cycling in the oil-rich Middle East.

Officials from Abu Dhabi and RCS Sport, which will help produce and promote the race October 8-11, made the announcement Monday. The race will be rated as a 2.1 on the Asia Tour Calendar and will slot into the hole left by the Tour of Beijing, which ended its five-year run in October.

The race is the second for the United Arab Emirates, to go along with the Dubai Tour, which will hold its second edition in February, with defending Tour de France champ Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) among the confirmed starters. It also marks another coup for RCS Sport, which continues to push its cycling and gran fondo events around the globe.

“This important goal is in line with RCS Sport’s strategy focused on extending its activities towards new international markets,” said Lorenzo Giorgetti, director of RCS Sport and Events JLT, the UAE wholly owned subsidiary of RCS Sport, in a press release.

“RCS MediaGroup is proud to announce this partnership with Abu Dhabi,” said Pietro Scott Jovane, CEO of RCS MediaGroup, in the release. “For our group, sport is one of the strategic assets that we continue to foster through both our core media platforms, La Gazzetta dello Sport and Marca, and our sport business and events operations, RCS Sport and Last Lap. Sport is a natural driver for our internationalization and a fundamental vector of social development, which is one of the values perfectly represented by cycling.”

Middle East countries are investing in cycling in a dramatic way. Not only do they see the sport as a platform to promote a healthy lifestyle and its tourism assets, but it also ties in nicely with the region’s push for credibility in international sports. As a core Olympic sport, cycling is an ideal and relatively cheap way for nations to build credibility in the international arena.

The Tour of Qatar, with strong links to Tour de France owners ASO, got the ball rolling in 2002. The race is now established as a way to ramp up the classics season. With strong crosswinds and good weather, many of the top classics stars use the five-day Qatar race to build for the Belgian races.

Nearby Oman joined the party in 2010. Also with the backing of ASO, the race has since grown to 2.HC status, and with more challenging terrain compared to the flatter Qatari courses, it sees GC stars kick-starting their seasons in the fine winter weather of the Middle East. Chris Froome (Sky) has won the past two editions.

The United Arab Emirates was watching with interest, and jumped in with a highly successful debut edition of the Dubai Tour in February. Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) won stage 1 and the overall, while Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the three other stages.

Riders say they like the mild weather and world-class amenities that come with racing and training in the region. The events give teams an alternative for early-season racing far removed from the inconsistent late-winter weather of Europe. And organizers pull out all the stops to assure that teams and riders feel welcome, with deluxe accommodations and lucrative prize money and appearance fees. Last year at the Dubai Tour, the race also featured guest appearances from sports icons such as Diego Maradona and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso.

The Abu Dhabi Tour comes online just as Qatar is set to host the UCI Road World Championships in 2016, another sign that cycling enjoys major backing in the Middle East.

The United Arab Emirates started backing Continental team Sky Dive Dubai this year, which has European pros such as Francisco Mancebo, Vladimir Gusev, and Andrea Paolini on its roster.