The evolution of professional cycling in the UAE took a radical new turn in 2019 as the country’s two events, the Dubai Tour and the Abu Dhabi Tour, merged to form one flagship race: the UAE Tour. The first incarnation last year saw many of the world’s leading cyclists descend on the emirates, with Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic ultimately emerging as the maiden winner.
For Fabrizio D’Amico it was five years in the making. The Italian, UAE Branch Manager for UAE Tour organisers RCS Sport, has worked in cycling in the emirates since the first professional cycling event, the Dubai Tour, was launched in 2014. The unification of the two tours provided both new challenges and opportunites for D’Amico and his team.
“I’ve seen everything from day one until now and I think it was the right time to go under one umbrella,” D’Amico tells Sport Industry Insider. “Now it is a tour that is showcasing all of the UAE. It is something that can only grow in the future.
“Before we had two completely different races. The Dubai Tour was more for sprinters, one of the fastest races in the world that attracted a world-class calibre of riders – sprinters like Mark Cavendish, Elia Vivani and Marcel Kittel. The Abu Dhabi Tour had more GC [General Classification] riders. The Abu Dhabi Tour contenders didn’t really compete in Dubai and the Dubai Tour contenders didn’t compete in Abu Dhabi.
“Now the UAE Tour embraces both sprinters and GC. I think we have now created one of the most complete seven-day races in the cycling calendar.”
Despite the success of the 2019 UAE Tour there have been some adjustments made to the route this time around in a bid to highlight different areas of the UAE. The small coastal town of Al Ruwais, for example, will be visited for the first time in 2020.
“Like all cycling tours, we want to go to different places each year,” D’Amico explains. “There might be the same mountain or the same finish line, but the way that you reach that mountain or the finish line should differ to make it more interesting for the riders. We want to show that there is more to the UAE than just the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi – there is a big, diverse country out there.
“We want to showcase the beauty of the emirates and to bring sport to everyone’s home – to inspire people to be interested in cycling. Of course this is difficult in some of the more remote parts of the UAE but we work with local authorities and stakeholders to market the event and school outreach is really important, as we always want to have kids on the start line.”
Ensuring fair representation of different regions of the UAE has been an important requirement for race organisers, with D’Amico admitting it is always a priority to create a quality route befitting of the quality field of riders who will race it.
“You need to have an interesting route that inspires the riders because the race is made by the riders. You could have the best route but if the riders are going at a slower pace, or they aren’t competitive, the route then becomes boring. Ideally you want a challenging route and with a good mix of riders.
“Initially it was challenging to bring the top, top riders but our expertise in cycling meant the riders and teams trusted us and were willing to come. Fortunately, they loved competing in the UAE from the start and it became easier.
“The standard of the hotels and the facilities, the fact it is the only UCI World Tour race in the Middle East – these things have helped us put together a race that attracts the best riders in the world; it’s a brand on its own and is now well-established in the international cycling calendar.”
D’Amico and his team at RCS Sport oversee an intense planning process to ensure the smooth running of the UAE Tour but despite preparations beginning almost a year in advance, it is impossible to be ready for all eventualities.
“Usually when we have finished one tour, we immediately start working towards the next edition. First, we do an analysis of what worked really well and what we believe we can improve. Then comes the route planning and we start with the site inspection usually in June.
“We start discussions with the teams towards the end of the season in November and December. Still, in sports you cannot predict what will happen – they could be racing in another competition and a rider picks up an injury, or a rider may be coming back from injury and not sure if they want to compete.”
Remembering a formidable race at Al Qudra in the second leg of the UAE Tour Mubadala Challenge pic.twitter.com/XIm4wpoizl— UAE Tour Official (@uae_tour) January 28, 2020
While the UAE Tour, and the creation of a professional cycling team in UAE Team Emirates, has helped put the country on the map as an elite cycling destination, it is hoped that the reach of the race will go beyond those who already love the sport.
“For me, promoting cycling is the most important aspect of the UAE Tour,” D’Amico says. “It aligns with the vision of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and Dubai Sports Council towards community sport and I think hosting these professional cycling events has affected people in a positive way. In the build up to the UAE Tour this time, we have had amateur races, the UAE Tour Mubadala Challenges and recently 1,000 reigstered for our event in Liwa – more than double the number we had last year.
“We are also conducting a UAE Tour Mubadala educational program and have doubled our presence in the schools of the UAE this year. It is about bringing kids closer to what cycling is, teaching them about safety on the roads, the history of cycling and how to have a healthy lifestyle.
“Yes the UAE Tour is a professional cycling event that showcases the beauty of the UAE around the world and we want to have the best competition. But it is very important for us to be close to our communities and for them to see that cycling is not just for professionals.”