The sandy dunes and arid climate of the UAE make an atypical setting for cycling. The nation has, however, excelled when it comes to promoting cycling as a competitive sport, a healthy hobby and as an eco-friendly mode of transportation.
UAE Team Emirates has made a name for itself at this year’s Tour de France, cycling’s premier road race. In what was one of the closest finales in the race’s history, Slovenian athlete Tadej Pogacar, cycling for Emirates, won the penultimate stage to clinch victory in the overall General Classification.
"I’m really proud of the team. They made such a big effort,” said Pogacar. “To get the yellow jersey [the award for the leading cyclist at each stage of the race] on the final day is what we dreamed from the start.”
Pogacar, who is the youngest winner in 116 years, won a total of three stages on his Tour de France debut.
His outstanding performance was an inspiration to fans all around the world, and gives the UAE reason to feel proud. The 21-year-old rider’s success also sends a strong message of hope to other aspiring athletes who, in many cases, have had their training interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and a global economic recession.
Cities around the Gulf have witnessed a growing interest in cycling in recent years – not only as a competitive sport, but also as a way to stay in shape while reducing the carbon footprint. Cycle paths have been constructed throughout Abu Dhabi and Dubai, for example, making it increasingly possible for residents to commute by bicycle during the more temperate seasons of the year.
Last month, Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed said that Dubai aims to become a bicycle-friendly city. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has so far laid out around 425km cycling tracks in different areas of the city. By 2025, the RTA aims to extend cycling tracks to 647km. New laws are set to be introduced in a bid to encourage people to practice cycling as a sport but also as an alternate mode of transportation. In Abu Dhabi, Masdar City’s cycling track was also part of a larger drive for sustainability and healthy living.
Gulf nations have some of the Middle East’s highest rates for preventable conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes among their population. Arab leaders are taking action to encourage their people to look after their health, especially as most of these conditions can be prevented with small lifestyle changes.
The UAE is looking to reduce the obesity rate among children as part of its National Agenda. Obesity has already declined by one quarter and diabetes has decreased by more than a third among adults in the UAE, according to the 2019 National Health Survey. These positive results have been achieved thanks to awareness raising campaigns about preventable diseases.
Most importantly, Emirati leaders have led by example when it comes to embracing healthier lifestyle choices. For instance, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, shared footage of himself on social media as he cycled around the city with friends and aides last month.
As the cooler months approach, exercising outside or commuting to work by bicycle should be all the more enjoyable. And with new cycling tracks set to open in the country, bicycle enthusiasts have much to look forward to.