Middle East Peace Tour sportive becoming a reality

A sportive stage race is becoming a reality in the Middle East after cyclists ended test run on Friday at Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate.

JERUSALEM (VN) — A sportive stage race for amateur cyclists is becoming a reality in the Middle East after cyclists ended a test run Friday at Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate.

Around 15 cyclists from across Europe completed a journey from Amman, Jordan, south through the country to Israel and up north through Palestine. They connected historic, and sometimes warring, lands with cycling. The test run serves for 2018’s inaugural Middle East Peace Tour, a seven day stage race from March 9 to 15 to be registered with the UCI.

The event is the brainchild of Gerhard Schönbacher. The Austrian former professional, who twice finished last as the lanterne rouge in the Tour de France, already runs the successful Crocodile Trophy in Australia and the Alpen Tour in Austria.

Cyclist are adventurous people, they like to discover new countries,” Schönbacher said in Petra’s late afternoon sun.

“Many people want to come to the Middle East, but riding on your own in this area is not activities, you need to be in a group, in a group of people who have the same ideology.”

The Lost City of Petra Lost City, one of the seven wonders of the world, is one of the many attractions along the road planned for next year’s event. The itinerary includes the Ramon Crater in Israel, a trip into Egypt and Palestine, the Red Sea and Dead Sea, and of course, the finish at Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate.

The race covers 681 kilometers over seven stages, including a 30 kilometre circuit start in Amman, a 25-kilometer time trial over the border in Taba, Egypt, and three long hauls around 150 kilometers. Schönbacher and backer Geoffrey R. Hoguet are opening registration some soon, around June, and planning on welcoming around 500 cyclists.

“People who come will not just be here for cycling, but curiosity about the Middle East,” added Schönbacher. “Daily, everyone hears about religion and politics, but a lot of people will come to support peace. If they see others believing in peace, then it’ll give a little bit of hope to those people who don’t have hope anymore.”

Orica-Scott cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten, winner of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race this year, joined the group to scout the territory this last week.

“One of the things I like in cycling is see and meeting a lot of people, culture, and being in a different country on your bike is a great opportunity for me. I thought, why not?!” Van Vleuten said.

“If they want a great experience, then I’d for sure recommend all my friends to come. Maybe not for the race itself, but for more for the experience to ride seven days in new countries they are not familiar with.”

Israel and its neighbors have had their difficulties over the years. From the outside, especially after the Palm Sunday bombings near Cairo two weeks ago, an amateur cyclist may question whether to attend. Reality, however, differs from perception once on the ground.

During the test run, we visited Taba over the border in Egypt and Jericho in Palestine without any problems or safety worries.

“Everyone said, ‘Ah be careful’ when they heard I was coming to this part of the world, but I feel safe and it’s no problem at all,” added Van Vleuten. “It’s very well organized and the people in Jordan and Israel are very friendly and welcoming.”

[pullquote align=“left” attrib=”Annemiek van Vleuten”]”Everyone said, ‘Ah be careful’ when they heard I was coming to this part of the world, but I feel safe and it’s no problem at all.”[/pullquote]

“We have two things that we are concentrating on, first to secure the race according to UCI regulations, closing off the roads, et cetera, then the general security,” added Schönbacher. “Each country, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Palestine will look after that.

“When I came to this country three years ago, when I went to Palestine … You have these things in your head, what you read about it, but when you walk in people say, ‘Welcome to Palestine!’ and invited us for drinks on the street. So I said, ‘I must have learned something wrong from the media.’

“The sportive stage is a tool to transport peace through sport,” said Schönbacher. “We’ve had so many requests already even if we haven’t put anything on our website. We are going to start soon spreading the event worldwide.”