When Dubai announced it’s plans to start a cycling event on a winter evening in January last year, one still had doubts over the value it could bring to an already crowded sporting calendar. Now, halfway into the event, it has already turned out to be a masterstroke in terms of showcasing the different faces of Dubai.
A simple logic illustrates it as nothing better — which other sporting event has been able to bring the city to a standstill? The Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon every January comes closest to it, albeit only for a few hours on a Friday, which impacts public life relatively little. The Dubai Tour, by contrast, is a four-day extravaganza with a global TV audience estimated at 150 million.
With the benefit of hindsight, one has to admire the rationale and a strategy for the investment behind such a world class cycling event — a popular discipline in the West but nevertheless a niche one. Dubai has, over the past two decades, believed in using the appeal of sport to reach out as a brand and that’s how the golf and tennis events were born, while the Dubai World Cup horseracing was due to the passion of its rulers.
The Formula One in Abu Dhabi completed the cycle of high-profile events in the country and so any new event had to be chosen carefully. It was no coincidence then that the announcement of the Dubai Tour 2014 came at the opening of the Al Qudra cycling path on the outskirts of the city. It was an invitation in-waiting for the citizens to come and participate.
The logistical challenges of putting it together, as one realises with every passing day, is certainly greater than some of the high-profile sporting events, where time-tested machinery is already in place. It’s a unique event that can blend the man on the street with it and at no cost, which perhaps explains the organisers’ repeated call to come and participate by watching the likes of a Mark Cavendish or Marcel Kittel breeze past you.
The routes of the four stages were drawn up to ensure that no facet of Dubai goes uncovered. It’s not only about the glitz of the furturistic Downtown or the architectural wonders like the Burj Khalifa or Burj Dubai. It touched upon some of the major sporting venues across the length and breadth of the city on Thursday, while the vignettes of desert life in Hatta and the maze of old Dubai like Bur Dubai or Deira still await the cyclists.
“A guided tour of Dubai” is how one of the top officials chose to describe the event. The way it’s panning out, I am thinking of putting my money on the Tour being the most popular sporting event among Dubai residents for years to come!