UAE Tour can be the Tour de France of the Middle East, says Aref Al Awani

The inaugural seven-day race gets under way on Sunday in Abu Dhabi before ending in Dubai on March 2

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., November 26, 2018.  
Interview with Aref Al Awani, secretary general of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, and head of Local Organising Committee of both Fifa Club World and Asian Cup.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  SP
Reporter: Amith Passela
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The UAE Cycling Tour can become a new “jewel in the crown” on the UCI calendar, according to the Local Organising Committee.

The 2019 UAE Tour, starting Sunday, is a professional cycling race, and the only UCI World Tour race in the Middle East. There are 20 teams taking part in this year's inaugural edition - 18 World Tour Teams and two Pro Continental teams - with some of the biggest names in cycling, including Vincenzo Nibali, winner of all three Grand Tours, competing.

Aref Al Awani, vice chairman of the LOC and general secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said the UAE Tour can become to the Middle East what the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia races are to European cycling.

"It's true the UAE Tour is embarking on the first year but this event already has the ... signs of becoming a new jewel in the crown on its own rights in the UCI calendar of events," Al Awani told The National.

“The UAE Tour is already a World Tour event, the only one in the Middle East. It has drawn all 18 World Tour teams including some of the biggest names in cycling, like Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Doumillon.

“Very few countries host a seven-day cycling event. What more can we ask for an inaugural race?”

The race begins on Sunday with a team time trial in Abu Dhabi and concludes in Dubai on March 2, covering a distance of more than 1,090 kilometres across the all seven emirates.

Sunday's 16 kilometre team time trial takes place at Al Hudayriat Island with the second stage also in the capital taking in Yas Island.

Stage 3 features the first UAE Tour climb – 1,025m to Jebel Hafeet (Al Ain)  – while Stage 4 is in Dubai, starting at Palm Jumeirah before ending at Hatta Dam.

A long flat stage in Sharjah follows before the peloton moves through to Ras Al Khaimah for the first mountain day Stage 6 and a 20km uphill finish to Jebel Jais. The final day is a parade through Dubai with a sprint stage ending at City Walk.

The UAE Tour is the result of a merger between the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tours. The Abu Dhabi Tour received World Tour status in 2017 which has been retained by the UAE Tour.

The start and finish will alternate between Dubai and Abu Dhabi every year.

“We are happy with this arrangement to give both parties the opportunity to do something special and create something new once in every two years,” Al Awani added. “We consulted each and every emirate to plan their own routes, of course with inputs from the tour organisers. Our technical committee from both the LOC and UCI were always at hand to provide the expertise in covering the distances across the seven days.

“We want to make this race as one of the most important in the world as a lot of other sporting events we host every year.”

He credited Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed, who was also instrumental in introducing jiu-jitsu and triathlon events to Abu Dhabi, as a major driving force behind the merger.

“He’s worked behind the scenes on the cycling tour and the architect behind the merger,” Al Awani said.

As well as being an elite-level international sporting event, Al Awani hopes the UAE Tour can be a vehicle to showcase the Emirates as a tourist destination.

“We not only want to showcase the UAE as a tourist destination but take the races as close as possible to the people living in the country," he said. "We want them see the peloton go past their homes and neighbourhood.

“My personal objective is to have a stage in Sir Baniyas Island, perhaps, as a time trial or a team time trial. That will be amazing.”