DUBAI // A major cycling race organised under the jurisdiction of the sport's world governing body is to be held for the first time in Dubai next year.
Plans for the Dubai Tour 2014, an International Cycling Union event, were announced last night at the official opening of a new desert cycling track nicknamed the Lollipop because of its shape.
Another highlight of the ceremony was a race between a professional racing cyclist and a horse. Four legs proved much better than two wheels, however, as the thoroughbred won easily.
Afterwards the beaten cyclist, German time-trial specialist Tony Martin, said: "It was my first time racing against a horse and it was a really nice experience. It's a story I can tell my kids in 20 or 30 years, it was amazing."
He welcomed the Dubai Tour announcement and said he would be interested in taking part. He added: "I imagine it will be very well organised."
A stunt rider performed on a specially built stepped stage at the opening, and there were laser and firework shows.
The new Dubai Cycling Course takes riders on a 50-kilometre loop over the sands. Cyclists who were consulted about the project said the track was a personal initiative by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who yesterday celebrated the seventh anniversary of his accession.
The opening ceremony was performed by Sheikh Mohammed's son, Sheikh Mansoor.
The route consists of two sections, an 18-kilometre two-way stretch along Al Qudra Road and the desert loop, which starts near the Bab Al Shams resort.
Work on laying the tracks, which together cost Dh19 million, began in February and the project was completed by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in the summer.
The area has long been popular with cyclists - and their presence had not gone unnoticed.
"When we got notification from the RTA that they were going to build the track the reason that we got was that Sheikh Mohammed had issued a decree saying there were too many cyclists along the road," said Stewart Howison of the Cycle Safe Dubai group, which took part in the opening ceremony. "He didn't want to ban it, he wanted to encourage it, so he said, 'Let's design a path'. And that's what they did."
A bicycle museum at the start of the track was also opened. It stands in a large car park with changing rooms with showers and lockers, an ambulance station and clinic and, of course, plenty of bicycle racks.