Well, it was a great day out for everyone who participated in this most prestigious of ‘sportive’ events - wasn’t it?
For some years now, the organisers, ASO, have sold a number (3000 this year I believe) of entries to tour operators in various countries. Those tour operators offer a variety of packages, including one where you buy only the entry, and make your own travel and accommodation arrangements. These are up to 10 times (yes ten times) more than you would pay if you entered through the Velo magazine application form. Fair enough, it’s a money making venture. Some years, including this year I believe, if your postal address was in a country served by one of those tour operators, you had to enter via a tour operator. If you applied directly through the application form published in Velo magazine, your application was rejected.
The result? On rolling up to the start line, you saw hundreds of cyclists who, with all due respect, would look less out of place in a darts match. But, hey, they paid the money, so why shouldn’t they be on the start line to find out what it’s like to “ride a stage of the Tour de France”?
Well, I can think of three reasons why not.
First, you didn’t need any background in sports to realise that these guys (yes, they were guys) wouldn’t make it as far as the second climb, let alone the finish. They’ll go home a few thousand pounds worse off, exhausted, and utterly disillusioned with cycling.
Second, it’s going to cheapen the image of the event. Why would you want to pay for and train for for an event like this if anyone with the required cash, regardless of athletic ability, can enter it?
Thirdly - and this is a moral rather than financial argument - there are many fit, dedicated, experienced riders who happen to live in countries served by these tour companies who can’t, or won’t, pay tour company prices. Their places are being hijacked by people who will pay, but haven’t a clue about what preparing for and riding an event like this involves.
Cycling is not “the new golf”. It requires months of sacrifice and preparation. It’s physically exhausting. It demands a thorough understanding of how your body reacts to physical stress. And we don’t wear argyll trousers. The etape should recognise this and bring back some sort of entry criteria rather than just allow anyone who can pay tour company prices.
Wow, one whole month since the last post. Either I’ve been lazy or training too hard. Guess which. We’re packing for the flight back to Edinburgh, then I’m off to do Etape du Tour number 7, this time up the fearsome Mont Ventoux on July 20. This mountain is famous for two things - the death of British cyclist Tommy Simpson in 1967, and the hailstorm which closed the road when the Etape last finished here in 2000. I still remember that descent as one of the coldest, scariest things I’ve ever done. Some of the things I saw riders do to warm their hands up enough to grip the brakes can’t be repeated here. Anyway, this year the sun will be shining, guaranteed.
It seems to have been the month for interviews too. The Amaury Sports Organisation, organisers of the Tour de France and the Etape du Tour called up out of the blue, hunting down survivors of that freezing day in 2000 for an article in the Tour de France programme. I don’t know if my French was up to the task of explaining to M. Louis Doucet quite how cold it was, but I managed to describe the descent as a ‘zone de guerre’ becasue of the number of bodies at the side of the road!
Second interview was with the delightful Helena Frith Powell of the National newspaper of the UAE, followed by a photo shoot with the hugely talented Philip Cheung. We started the photo shoot outdoors in 42 degree heat, then Philip politely asked how I trained in that heat. When I said I trained indoors, we beat a hasty retreat to the flat and continued the rest of the shoot there. I should see on Saturday what the results are, but surely photographing some kitted out cyclist riding like a dervish in the comfort of his own apartment must be one of the more bizarre photo shoots he’s done.
Good news and bad news last week. I got through the entry lottery for this year’s Etape du Tour, so have the fearsome climb of the Mont Ventoux to look forward to on July 20. Shortly after this, I got a surprise email from a journalist working for the Tour de France organisers ASO on the official Tour programme, which includes a section on l’Etape du Tour. He’s interviewing ‘survivors’ of the Etape’s last visit to Mont Ventoux in 2000, where we had hail and temperatures of 2 degrees on the summit, and when the police closed the road with about half the field still to reach the summit. I’ve since managed to erase most of the pretty horrific memories of the descent from the summit that day, so being interviewed about them will be a suitably traumatic experience!
Unfortunately, the Etape is now the only event left to train for…..
Meanwhile, back in never never land, the third Mercure Duathlon up Jebel Hafeet was cancelled due to lack of interest (big hand to certain ‘triathletes’ in a certain UAE emirate who have consistently failed to support this and other events in the UAE by failing to actually show up). Then, the Dubai Tri Club cancelled all their events due to bad mouthing by a minority of participants.
People need to know three things:
If you want to be called ‘triathlete’ you have to actually take part in triathlons, rather than just train for them or talk about them. Otherwise you’re not a ‘triathlete’, you’re a ‘poser’.
If you don’t show up to events, there won’t be any more events.
If someone organises an event for your benefit, the thing to say afterwards is “thank you for organising the event”, rather than making snide comments to or about the hard working (mostly voluntary) organisers and marshalls. That’s just plain dumb, and now the rest of the sporting community in the UAE pays the price for your selfishness. Well done to you whoever you are. Go back to your golf course/football pitch/wherever, you’re in the wrong sport.
Another Friday, and other triathlon. This time it was the DTC Olympic distance triathlon. That’s a 1500 metre swim, 40 km bike, and a 10 km run. Once again, Team Tri2Aspire were up for it. It seemed every other triathlete on the course was in our team colours, a great turnout. As usual, I wimped out of doing the whole thing, and was able to find two willing accomplices, Jamie Atherton and Chris Sellar, to join the team event. These are two of the stars of the team. Jamie has previously represented Great Britain in his age group, but suffered a career threatening neck injury two months ago while swimming. This was his return to competition, and we wanted to make it a good one for him. Chris is also a fabulous athlete, having won the 2008 DTC Half Ironman triathlon in appalling conditions with a really gutsy run. Having recently become a dad (congratulations Chris!), he was happy to find an event which fitted into his new schedule of nappy changing and getting woken up at odd hours.
As last week, we were able to line up with former world Ironman champion Faris Sultan. As usual, the start line was the last most of us saw of him. If you were lucky, you heard the turbo whine as he passed you. A deeply impressive thing to watch.
Once again the weather gremlins struck a DTC event. This time there was a 20 knot wind blowing off the sea. There were two potentially strong teams in the team event, and we exited the water with a 10 minute deficit on the first of them. The bike leg was tough with the wind, but, unlike the much feared ‘Ghantoot wind’, it was steady, cool, and predictable, so hard work but not too challenging. Like all windy events, it seemed to go on forever, so I was surprised to check my lap split to find I was lapping at 18 minutes, getting in in a shade under 56 minutes, and leaving Chris with a 2½ minute deficit to make up on the run section. Like the star he is, Chris made it up by 5 km, and we came in to win by almost 2 minutes (results here). Which makes a hatrick for Team Tri2Aspire in this years team triathlons.
Having survived the first Jebel Hafeet duathlon, race 2 came around on 27 February. This time the competition was provided by former world Ironman champion Faris Sultan. It’s often said that athletes at the very top of their sport are real gentlemen, and that it’s only those a rung or two down who can be a bit ‘stroppy’ - well Faris is proof of that. A more approachable, modest, and down to earth guy you will never meet, a true champion and a great ambassador for the sport.
But how did he do in the race? Well, I managed to get within 10 metres or so at one point early in the climb, and I swear I could smell the petrol fumes this guy is so powerful. I don’t know if he saw I was there, but very soon he just opened the throttle a notch wider, and he was gone up the hill. I made it into transition well behind Faris, but ahead of the mere mortals and this time managed to hang on to 2nd place until the top of the hotel road (OK, that’s maybe 100 metres, but it’s an improvement on last time!). Climbing the first 10% section was about as slow as forward motion can be before it is downgraded from ‘run’ to ‘walk’. I’d even done a bit of run training this time round, but it made not an iota of difference! I’m convinced the only way to train for runnning after cycling up Jebel Hafeet is to do the exact same thing in training - it’s a whole different sport to your weekend 5k run, more akin to battering your leg muscles with a large lump hammer. Still, only two of the real runners got past me, so 4th overall (to a world champion!), and 2nd veteran (choke) was a good day’s work, and in what other sport do you get to line up with a world champion?
Next event is the Dubai Triathlon Club Olympic Distance triathlon on March 6, which for me is a 40k bike, a nice distance as it equates to the 25 mile tme trials of my UK time trialling days.
Now, you may be wondering why someone would want to make the climb of Jebel Hafeet harder than it already is. Isn’t it enough to cycle or run up up a 10 kilometre long, 1000 metre high mountain in baking heat? Indeed, why not just drive up the thing? Or even better, stay in bed? Well, this isn’t the time to get into that debate, and if you don’t get it, you probably never will.
Anyway, for several years, UAE triathlon coach extraordinaire, Jason Metters, with the support of the Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Hotel, has been organising the Jebel Hafeet duathlon. Yes, you read that right - duathlon. As in cycling and then running. Here’s the deal. You cycle from the bridge at the foot of the climb to the Mercure Hotel car park (just under 8.5 kms, to an altitude of 915 metres), and run to the top of the mountain, before turning round, and running back to the hotel car park (4 kms).
Having done only the bike section during a couple of the events last year, and been called “a big wuss” for doing so, I thought I’d give the whole shooting match a go this year. And what a great day out it was too. I hauled my new look lightweight frame (that’s my frame, not my bike’s frame) up in first place in 31½ minutes, and set off on the run, having been overtaken by one of the real competitors in the transition zone. (How can these people change from cycling kit into running kit faster than I can unclip a pedal?) Unfortunately, running has never really been my thing. To be fair, some have even used the term ‘waddling’ in preference to running, but off I set nevertheless, on my first competitive running event since the knee-crushing 1991 Mount Kinabalu Climbathon (“The World’s Toughest Mountain race” according to the organizers). The only good thing to say about the run section was that the pain didn’t last for as long as the bike section - about 19 minutes in my case. Which I’m assured is snail-like. At least it looked that way to me compared to the two guys who steamed past me on the way down.
So 4th place at the end of the day. A great day out - but running still sucks! Photos to follow in’shaalah.
Big thanks to Everaldo Reyes III of World Gym Abu Dhabi for getting me back down to my fighting weight, and to Burkhard Leide, Team@World Directeur Sportif, for gently pointing out that I needed to do so.
What a great day out. 180 kms through Dubai, the desert, the mountains, and along the East Coast mountains. Starting near the newest Dubai mega malls to the finish near the oldest mosque in the Emirates. 180 riders from who knows how many countries. Over 1000 metres of climbing, 80 km/h descents, temperatures of 30 degrees, more than 4000 calories burnt for every rider. This much fun shouldn’t be allowed! Race photos and results to follow (I hope) as they become available.
There had been a lot of discussion before the event as to how this would progress. 180 riders of varying abilities and experience in a road race is a recipe for crashes. Many thought they’d been entering a ‘sportif’ type event, while others expected a road race. The anticipated solution was for two events to form on the road - one hell bent on winning the generous prize money, the other intent on getting to the finish line at Al Aqqah Beach resort 180 kilometres away.
For the first 10 kilometres or so, the race was neutralised, meaning that the large bunch rolled out together through the Dubai traffic, and then the flag went down. It soon became clear that anyone hoping for the ‘sportif’ option was in the wrong place. While the pace wasn’t super fast, attacks went repeatedly with riders trying to escape off the front of the peloton (bike speak for the main bunch). Inevitably, after about 50 kms, a small breakaway had a good lead off the front and soon built a lead of 4 mins over the main pack. The rest of us rolled on towards the climb over Wadi Helo, where the real fun would begin. As we began to hit the early slopes, the predicted headwind picked up. With the heat of the day kicking in, this made for tough conditions. Then we hit the main slope up to the tunnel. At this point the bunch began to spread out (since gravity slows you down, there’s hardly any ‘slipstream’ effect, so things tend to spread out with better climbers going forward). There was a good crowd of supporters near the summit handing up water and food, then there was the 80 km/h plummet down to Kalba on the east coast, about 10 kms away. From Kalba to the finish line is about 60 kms, and this seemed to go on forever. Thankfully, what is usually a 3/4 headwind was a 3/4 tailwind today, or many more would have abandoned. For the first 40 kms up the East Coast, the only thing to do was get into a small group and concentrate on getting a smooth rhythm going. This we managed to do once everyone had recovered from the climb, and we were soon keeping a good pace of 38 km/h going up the coast road. Into the last 20 kms from Khor Fakkan up to the Al Aqqah Beach Resort and things got a bit wild. Our group was joined by another small group from behind, riders were dropping out with cramp, and before we knew what had happened the group had split up again, with 4, then 3, then 2 riders out in front. And so to the finish line at Al Aqah Beach Resort. Results to follow as they’re released by the UAE Cycling Federation!
Another massive event. 9500 riders registered, although I’m told a lot didn’t reach the start line when they saw the weather. 170 kms, mostly in the rain. 4500 metres of climbing. Freezing descents off the Tourmalet and Hautacam. All in all an epic day out, and all in the company of Team World - the nicest bunch of cyclists you could hope to meet! I’m looking forward to the next one.