Tales From the Desert
It's been a while since i've put "pen to paper" but finally I have the opportunity to sit back, take stock and write something meaningful. With the release of my new and improved website I've found a new motivation to write again.
So as I write this entry in departures of the Dubai International Airport I’m reminded of the reality of bike racing. A new season has dawned, and another race done. It’s great to be back racing again, the long, hard winter miles put to the test in the United Arab Emirates desert. The wheels are in motion and the goals are set. Following my first year in professional cycling last year, I looked forward to 2019 to see what lay on the horizon. A breakaway in the first road stage of the season and at the highest echelon of professional cycling was certainly a good way to start (but more on that below).
"an unprecedented pace"
The last month, for me, has really gone by at an unprecedented pace; days becoming weeks and suddenly it's March. After a great training camp with the Team Novo Nordisk guys in January, it was almost straight to the first race. February drew in and the inaugural 'UAE Tour' beckoned.
The Inaugural 'UAE Tour'
The UAE Tour, is the middle east's only World Tour ranked event (highest race ranking in professional cycling). It is a different world to most races; spectacular architecture, extravagant but remarkable, rich facilities with dedicated bike roads and the famous Yas Marina Circuit, home to Ferrari World. Outside the cities the landscape is home to wide roads, high winds and sandstorms.
"we entered the game against the best in the world"
Stage one began with a Team Time Trial, a 16km race against the clock. Never our strong suit but we gave everything we had and we entered the game against the best in the world.
Stage two, the first road stage, gave an opportunity to really see what shape my legs were in. As the neutral flag dropped and the stage began proper, I put in the first attack. I looked around, and joined by only one other rider, we began to open a gap on the pursuing peloton. To be in the breakaway as a two, would be tough, but we were soon joined by two other riders, including my teammate Charles. Game on.
Stage three saw the first climb of the race, one that we'd scaled last year. Jebel Hafeet. A, nigh on, 11km climb, one that is usually decisive within the Abu Dhabi Tour and one that would most likely separate the overall contenders for general classification (GC) victory. A challenging climb, with the game plan to support our leader going in.
Stage four brought my birthday. Another day, and another infamous climb. This one, from the Dubai Tour. Hatta Damn. A steep final 300m slog to the top of the Damn at the finale. The last 20km also had two big kickers that determined a select group. After helping Peter in to this first group with 10km to go I found my group.
Stage five was back to the sprinters. Another good day in the saddle protecting Andrea for the final sprint.
Stage six was noted as the queen stage. A new climb that hadn’t been tackled in either the Dubai Tour or Abu Dhabi Tour previously; Jebel Jais. The 20km summit finish proved pivotal in the final standings. Again it was a day to protect. Following a crash that involved a big handful of riders in the first 5km, including myself, added to that the high and more often than not crosswinds, it made for a nervous day for the peloton.
"a drag race outside the Burj Khalifa"
The final stage, stage seven, wasn’t merely a parade into the centre of Dubai. With the highest winds of all week there was a rumour circulating in the peloton that the race may be halted but keeping that out of mind I had a job to do. The wind battered and swirled around the group and positioning was crucial. The straight and wide run in to the finish had a high speed ending written all over it. The race culminating in what was a drag race outside the Burj Khalifa.
UAE Tour done and dusted.
An Extra Special Mission
The race, for me, had an added significance and importance. Before the beginning of the race the team met Erin! An 11-year-old boy diagnosed with type one diabetes at 20 months old.
Having met the shy, but smiley Erin, I excitedly informed him that he’d be Team Novo Nordisk’s ‘Fan of the Race’.
With this accolade, I would ride the race with Erin’s name written on my bike. Some added incentive and to show what’s possible with diabetes. This side of what I do is magical. I have the best job in the world. To see someone’s appearance, demeanour and smile change for the better from such a simple act is nothing short of amazing. The feeling is out of this world. To change someone’s life for the better.
At the culmination of the race at the Dubai City Walk, Erin‘s shyness had washed away and his bubbly character shone through. I awarded Erin with my race number and his name sticker that I rode with.
I’d like to thank Erin and his Mum for coming down to meet us before the start and it was my privilege to race for him.
Thank you all for reading my latest work. It's been incredible to post again and hope to entertain you all very soon so stay tuned. If you feel it would be of benefit to others, then please feel free to share. Don't forget to follow, and I'd love to hear from you.
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