Twisted Spoke

My twisted take on the world of pro bike racing.

Posts Tagged ‘Tour of Qatar

Chicchi takes stage, Mol wins overall in Qatar. A farewell to the Belgium of the dunes.

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Uhh, where's the podium girls?

Allah is great and so is cycling. Welcome back to the land of Q.

“Cyclists are few and far between in Doha [Qatar] even though it is flat, easy to navigate and not very big. Only the crazy driving makes it less than perfect for cycling says the travelerspoint web site.”

A true statement except during the Tour of Qatar when the top riders and teams show up to teach the cars and camels a few lessons. Today in stage 6, the finale of this year’s tour, it was Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) who instructed everyone on how to win a sprint finish.

After seven laps of a 6km circuit in downtown Doha, the Italian burst up the left side of the road when every other sprinter in the Middle East went right to cut the corner. On paper, the wrong decision but on the podium the right one, as he beat Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) and Juan Jose Haedo (Saxo Bank).

“I stayed on the left because it was sheltered from the wind. I took a risk by doing that but everyone else went to the right to take the shortest line. I took the long way round and got it. I hit 74kpm, that’s how fast the sprint was,” said Chicchi.

“It’s usually harder for me to win high-speed sprints like this but Bennati sacrificed his chances to help me and I can only thank him.” Twisted Spoke thinks the duty free shop at the Doha airport might be an excellent place to pick up a thank-you gift for Bennati.

The big surprise was overall winner Wouter Mol of Vacansoliel, who finished in the bunch to win his first race of note. Combined with two wins by their sprinter Borut Bozic in Etoile de Besseges last week, Vacansoleil is off to a flying start. Chapeau, team of the Sunny Vacationers.

“I’m really happy now. I’m getting better as a rider. I’ve never done this kind of thing before, I hope I can do it some more times in the future,” said Wouter.

Much of the race from Al Wakra to Doha Corniche was animated by a four-rider break. Patrick Gretsch (HTC-Columbia), Martin Kohler (BMC), Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Australian Ben King (Trek-Livestrong) took off just 2.5km into the stage. Their lead went up to five minutes and then rewound to zero in the closing circuit.

And so we must bid a fond and dusty farewell to the Land of Q and the week-long cycling frenzy that turns the country into the Belgium of the sand dunes. To those who already feel the withdrawal pains, we say fear not. Thanks to the Sultanate of Oman, their tour begins in two days with an exciting twist: camels, sand dunes and … mountains.

Who needs Italy and Spain and France? The caravan to exotic capital city Muscat leaves tonight. Load the Pinarellos —  there’s not a moment to lose.

Written by walshworld

February 12, 2010 at 9:08 am

Boonen wins stage 5 in Tour of Qatar. The commemorative thong.

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Boonen closes deal on Qatar condo.

Our time in the land of Q grows short, infidels. Soon this garden of cycling delights must close and we must bid adieu to Qatar, the Belgium of the sand dunes.

In today’s 142k stage to Madinat Al Shamal, fans cheered wildly as adopted son Tom Boonen scored his second stage win in a row. Qatar is Quickstep country and the team put on a show today.

They chased down a 14 man break starring overall leader Wouter Mol (Vacansoliel) and set up the sprint for the man locals call The Sheik.

Boonen had no trouble dispatching Danilo Napolitano (Katusha) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky), who finished second and third.

The spoils of Victory.

“I’m super happy to win again. It was a head wind and so it was hard to pass so I think I did the sprint right,” Boonen said.

The king of the cobbles appears in top form and highly motivated at the start of the 2010 season.

Standing on the podium, Boonen received the traditional champagne and kisses along with two camels, a madqan incense burner, a bag of dates and curiously enough a pair of signature Qatari thong underwear.

No doubt Boonen will be slipping that one underneath his Quick Step shorts.

Written by walshworld

February 11, 2010 at 8:44 am

Farrar’s four-flat day in Qatar. Dance, anyone?

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We find ourselves back in the desert, in the Land of Q, the Arabian hotbed of cycling and the Belgium of the sand dunes. Italian fast man Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo) won the sprint into Al Khor Corniche, blowing past Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam) and Juan Jose Haedo (Saxo Bank). Qatar sits on one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, so the Liquigas boys obviously felt at home.

But Twisted Spoke is mostly astounded by Tyler Farrar’s flat-tire-athon in the final 20 kilometers of the race. Four, count ‘em, four punctures that put him a collective four minutes behind Chicchi.

“Four flats in 20km is ridiculous. What can you do when that happens?” Farrar said after crazy day. “It was a nice finish and I think it was a good finish for me today. I was motivated but it all went wrong.”

So we dedicate this odd and sophomoric video to Tyler and his unlucky Garmin teammates. The unforgettable Bicycle Pump Dance. It must be extremely popular in Qatar these days.

Written by walshworld

February 10, 2010 at 1:19 pm

The Belgian sheik strikes. Boonen takes stage three of Tour of Qatar.

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Tom "The Sheik" Boonen.

Welcome back to the Tour of Qatar, the cycling crazy Arab emirate sometimes called the Belgium of the desert. Such is their love of the two wheeled contraption.

The camel may be a quaint and enduring romantic image but the reality is that bicycle racing is what enflames the passion of this Persian hotbed of cycling.

During the Tour of Qatar, visitors to the capital city of Doha are sure to see hundreds of arab fans in head-dress and wearing the team jersey of their favorite squad. And make no mistake, Qatar is Quick Step country and Tom Boonen is considered an honorary Qatari.

So it was with much joy and celebration that today’s 136 kilometer stage from Dukhan to Mesaieed was won by the Belgian classics star. He is the master of the cobbles and the sand dunes. Boonen went into hyper-drive to beat Heinrich (pusher man) Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam) and Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank) in a crash-filled finale.

“That’s really fast! The highest I’ve ever done was against [Alessandro] Petacchi but that was with a tailwind,” said Boonen, happy to have his first win of the season.

A young Boonen fan.

Yes, this petroleum rich country with the third largest gas reserves in the world just can’t get enough of guys in lycra racing their bikes.

Perhaps this accounts for the always crowed bike shops around Shara Kharaba, the old part of town. It’s hard to keep those Marco Pantani posters in stock when every kid wants one.

Crazy things happen everyday in the land of Q and Mesaieed was the scene of an unfortunate pile-up. Gerald Ciolek (Milram) joined Kurt Asle-Arvesen (Team Sky) and Steven Cozza (Garmin) in the broken collarbone competition.

But the day belonged to the man the locals call El Tommeke, the Sheik. Chapeau — or as they say in Qatar, keffiyeh.

Written by walshworld

February 9, 2010 at 8:55 am

Hoohak pipe at Tour of Qatar. No, this is not doping.

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WADA? Hookah?

No, this is not confiscated equipment from one of the teams in the Tour of Qatar.

Nobody is under arrest, thrown in some squalid jail or incurring the wrath of anti-drug priestess Anne Gripper.

No worries here in the land of Q. Yes, at first glance  it could be some sort of weird arabian centrifuge or illegal doping contraption.

The uninformed and overly suspicious may wrongly assume the worst if they found this gadget in a rider’s room.

However, we can all rest easy and the Tour of Qatar is still doping free. This is simply the classic hookah pipe or shisha and no cause for UCI-quality alarm.

The sharing of the hookah pipe in cycling-mad Qatar, the Italy of the Middle East, is just a custom among cycling fans here. No need to panic or jump to conclusions.

Written by walshworld

February 9, 2010 at 12:46 am

Tour of Qatar. Mystery, intrigue, camels that refuse to carry Mavic wheels.

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Neutral support camel out of operation.

Strange doings down in the desert, the Land of Q, the Arabian cycling hotbed that is Qatar. Some people call Qatar the Italy of the Arabian peninsula. Some, not the majority.

First, Belgian classic specialist Tom Boonen of Quick Step disguised himself in an arab headdress and long flowing white robe, then borrowed a local bike to pre-ride the course. The droves of paparazzi in Q were disappointed.

Then, in the hotly contested (hey, it’s the Middle East) stage one team time trial, Team Cervelo was hit with a one minute penalty after Heinrich Haussler pushed teammate Gabriel Rasch. At least according to judge Jinshan Zhao of China.

First Qatar question; what is a judge from China doing in Qatar making calls on a ProTour race. This is sort of like the Jamaican judge calling the shots in a Scandinavian cross country ski championship. Sure, it’s a global sport but silly, too.

Strangely enough Chief judge Enrique Gonzalez Martinez agreed with Zhao and despite the short distance of the stage, enforced the International Cycling Union (UCI) rule which mandates a one-minute penalty for pushing. Which is pretty much goodbye for Cervelo in the overall unless they push back really hard.

Wait, is this on the race route?

Then things got even stranger in Qatar, which like Nim’s Island or the parallel universe of The Golden Compass, is always unpredictable. Stage two began on a camel racetrack and that’s where the trouble begin. Several teams complained when the neutral service camel carrying the spare wheels decided to take a nap and refused to move despite a vigorous beating.

Then Geert Steurs (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil) attacked just two kilometers into the race, leaving everyone in their dust. Literally. Halfway through the course, the road disappeared into a sand dune. The peloton came to screeching half as an army of dust blowers cleared the road. But by then, it was too late as Steurs took the win. The tour of Q is Quazy.

Written by walshworld

February 8, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Tom Boonen in Arab disguise before start of Tour of Qatar.

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Boonen -- is that you?

Tom Boonen is a pretty famous guy — even in the middle of the desert. While the arab state of Qatar may not have the same Boonen-mania as back in Belgium, the star was taking no chances.

Apparently Boonen donned a traditional headdress and long white robe and then borrowed a local man’s old bike to check out the opening team time trial incognito. He rode the entire course in Doha, the capital city of Qatar, without anyone noticing this was the man who conquered Paris-Roubiax and the Tour of Flanders.

Twisted Spoke has now exposed this elaborate ruse: we know that’s you, Tom of Arabia.

Written by walshworld

February 5, 2010 at 5:47 pm

HTC-Columbia women’s squad opens season in Qatar. Please, no self stimulation.

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Attention getting headline. Sorry, but Twisted Spoke stands behind this with 100% journalistic accuracy.

Let’s examine the Qatar question. Easy to pin on a race number in a foreign country without realizing the ramifications.

We’re talking about fit women in tight lycra in a three day bike race in the Arab country of Qatar which is mostly muslim. Danger abounds.

Where did we put our bikes?

Which brings us to a fascinating google gem we found concerning the Number 1 Ladies Muslim Cycling Club in London. Ellen Van Dijk of HTC Columbia, pay close attention.

The stated goal of the club, the only Muslim cycling group in Britain, is to get women out riding. But as you can imagine, wearing the full hijab scarf and jilab, the long black dress, not only makes for a cumbersome ride but plenty of raised eyebrows.

One of the club members, Alema puts it this way: “if you want to wear a veil, it’s going to be a struggle – but this life is supposed to be about struggle.” You see, cycling throws all kinds of challenges our way, but we say chapeau, ladies.

“You don’t see many women out cycling, especially in the hijab,” says fellow club member Rajana, who is in her twenties. “I’m a bit of a rebel,” she says. Rebel yes, but what if you’re half naked wearing loud lycra in the middle of Qatar?

Twisted Spoke found a basic “Dear Allah” column where this “ride –don’t ride” philosophical issue was discussed. There’s in fact confusion in the Muslim world about whether women should be allowed to ride bikes.

We quote a curious Muslim woman in the reader forum: “My husband thinks it may be forbidden because a woman’s breasts or buttocks might bounce up and down and cause men to look at her. But I think he is wrong because the women in the days of the prophet rode camels and horses.” Yeah, but what about on a $5000 racing bike like the Ladies Number 1 HTC-Columbia club?

Veil or no veil?

The real issue comes into tight focus when you read the male response to the Muslim Ladies Cycling Club. ““Women should not be riding bikes. They are stimulating themselves. If they want to stimulate themselves they should get a man,” said one fellow who will never get another date.

In short, this is something HTC-Columbia riders should discuss among themselves before proceeding to Qatar. Personally, we support riding a bike with or without clothes and any combination in between. We also totally respect the right of each culture and religion to make its own rules.

There’s a sensual mystery to the veil and a momentary glimpse of bare calf as a women cycles by might be far more exciting than the look-at-me day-glo lycra. There’s no question that in the West, everything is too pornographic — not that we’re complaining.

We just think team director Ronny Lauke might be underplaying the situation when all he’s concerned about is the heat.  “The latest forecasts say it’ll be nearly thirty degrees during the day, which is thirty degrees warmer than most of Europe. That’s quite a difference,” said Lauke.

Twisted Spoke says don’t worry about the heat, the real issue is offending the locals. A long lycra jilab dress with sponsor logos may be a bit tricky to race in, but why take unnecessary risks, right?

P.S. Go easy on the stimulation.

Prudhomme says Tour de France start in Qatar possible. The podium girl shortage.

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One is not enough.

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme confirmed that Qatar is interested in hosting several tour stages in the near future.

Setting aside the time changes, air travel and many dangers of the Persian Gulf, Twisted Spoke asks, does Qatar have the requisite number of sexy podium girls for a major ProTour event? It’s a desert out there.

Prudhomme himself appeared to address the podium babe issue, telling cyclingnews, “I am not sure if something will work out [as regards that].” The Frenchman is obviously holding his cards close to the vest — a tour start in Qatar is still a long ways off. The podium girl situation could change drastically.

The county hosts the Tour of Qatar, a six stage race held in January and won last year by Belgian Tom Boonen.

However, the tour had only one podium girl from Qatar and after several stages she was rushed to a hospital suffering from exhaustion. Qatar officials admit the lack of high quality podium girls is a stumbling block for hosting an event with as much prestige as the Tour de France.

“We are scouring the cities, towns, even the camel caravans that pass through the desert,” said Sheik Ahmed Al-Zekir. “We will find these sexy girls who spray champagne on our most illustrious guests in lycra.” The sheik also promised there would be no kidnapping of young girls from neighboring gulf states or down-on-their-luck stewardesses from the Midwest hoping to make a quick buck.

Race commentators have noted that the alcohol laws of Qatar are in part to blame for the difficulties. The limited number of public bars and nightclubs in Qatar operate only in expensive hotels and clubs. This puts a damper on the development of the local party girls.

Also still in heated discussion, the podium girl attire. While the Tour de France, Giro and Vuelta lean toward the classic tight, fitted skirt, the arab podium girl is more likely to wear a bulky robe that reveals no leg, bare arms or plunging neckline.

At this point, Prudhomme would only say, “We’ve met. I went over there.” That doesn’t sound like champagne and kisses to us.

Written by walshworld

December 27, 2009 at 3:22 pm

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