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Tours of Qatar, Oman likely to continue in 2017 and beyond

Organizers Eddy Merckx and Dirk De Pauw look ahead to the future of the two Middle Eastern races, which could be added to the WorldTour.

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MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Organizers of the Tours of Qatar and Oman say the future of the races “looks bright” for 2017 and beyond. After recent meetings, contracts appear set for renewal. Organizers are also weighing the benefits of seeking UCI WorldTour promotion.

The stage races in the Middle East finished Sunday in Oman. Since 2002, Belgians Eddy Merckx and Dirk De Pauw have organized the Tour of Qatar. Oman came into the picture in 2010.

When the sun sat in Muscat Sunday evening, Merckx and De Pauw celebrated the overall victories of Dimension Data’s Mark Cavendish in Qatar and Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali in Oman, but also the likelihood that their Persian Gulf stage races would continue beyond the 2016 editions.

“I had meetings and the future looks bright,” De Pauw told VeloNews regarding the Tour of Oman.

De Pauw met with city officials, who fund the race, Sunday morning before the final stage near Muscat’s Souk. “They said that they want to go on. We need to write some reports about how it’s going to work,” he said. “The minister of tourism told me, ‘Please call. Here’s my mobile. You have all my support to go on.’ What more do you want to hear?”

The Tours serve riders who are preparing for the classics and for the upcoming Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice stage races. The Tour of Oman has celebrated victories by Sky’s Chris Froome twice over the years, and now three-time grand tour winner Nibali has a victory there as well.

“This is maybe the best Tour of Oman since we started,” cycling great Merckx told VeloNews soon after Kristoff’s second stage win on the last day of the race. “With Nibali winning and Romain Bardet second, we had the best in cycling racing for the overall. Don’t forget Bob Jungels, and wins by Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen.

“It’s important for the riders themselves. They can start the year in Europe knowing what kind of condition they have. Also if they can win, it’s even better because there are journalists here that cover it for countries around the world.”

Added De Pauw: “For the city, the [Tour of Oman’s] impact in the world is important as a tool to promote tourism. That’s what matters and that’s why we tried this year to have many more scenery shots. The Omani said that they were surprised. They said to me, ‘Wow, we didn’t know that our country is so beautiful.'”

De Pauw told VeloNews that he and Merckx are planning changes for 2017 to bring more people to the race, with visits to more of Oman’s natural treasures on the docket as well. Unlike Qatar, the Dubai Tour, and the Abu Dhabi Tour, the Tour of Oman covers rugged mountains in the country’s north, near the capital city of Muscat.

The race is expected to be renewed for five years, from 2017 to 2021. Its sister race in Qatar, which includes a women’s event, should reach beyond 2016 too. Merckx told VeloNews the positive signal came when Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani, Qatar’s national federation president, asked the UCI for a WorldTour promotion for 2017.

De Pauw will meet with cycling’s governing body March 1 in Switzerland to understand what it means to join the WorldTour.

“I want to know from them, what is the advantage of the WorldTour?” De Pauw said. “We’d have 18 WorldTour teams, but would we have Nibali and Froome?”

The UCI is expected to include some European races like Strade Bianche and races further abroad in the Middle East in the 2017 WorldTour. Currently, the series includes 27 races, among them all three grand tours as well as cycling’s biggest one-day events.