Everything about the Tour of Qatar is sheer bling – from the race hotel, to the race announcer, to the race book. Procycling deputy editor Ellis Bacon brings you the stories behind the race all this week.
Tom Boonen’s Quick Step squad started this seventh edition of the Tour of Qatar in the same way as they had left the sixth – with the gold leader’s jersey in their ranks after victory in Sunday’s opening team time trial.
But it was Matteo Tosatto taking the applause rather than Boonen on this occasion; as the first rider across the line of the winning team, the Italian officially leads the race. And despite Boonen’s proud record of 12 stage wins here over the years, his team-mates have always been allowed a share of the glory in Qatar: witness Wilfried Cretskens who took the overall victory last year.
The gold jersey is appropriately named for this race. What the event lacks in spectacular scenery and challenging terrain – that is, it’s sandy and it’s flat – it more than makes up for in terms of pure sumptuousness and the very different experience it offers compared to that which the European teams and journalists present are used to.
You can feel it as soon as you arrive at the race headquarters – the nothing-short-of-stunning Ritz-Carlton is as far away from an Ibis in a grotty suburb of a French city as it’s possible to be. Apparently the chandelier alone in the lobby is worth a cool million dollars.
Next, the livre de route – the race book – is handed to you: it looks as though it’s been printed with gold leaf, such is the proliferation of the colour in its pages.
And as the teams raced their way along the Corniche in Doha on the first stage, it was accompanied by quite possibly the most entertaining race announcing ever heard. The gentleman in question is best described as a Euro-style DJ, offering some choice commentary delivered in the most awesome American-style voice as the teams stepped up to the start line. It was nothing short of fantastic.
“Next up are the BMC Racing Team at 2.59pm, which is nearly three o’clock, but is not quite three o’clock.”
Well, he wasn’t wrong, was he?
“And following them is Team Milram,” he rapped. “Yes – you heard me – Milram! – dressed in the baby blue with the white stripe, and with some red and black.”
Blind people like him.
“Here come the Topsport Vlaanderen team in blue and yellow. Blue represents the sky, and yellow represents competition.”
I, for one, didn’t know that.
“So, what do you get?”
“You get competition and blue sky.”
Of course! Like I say, awesome. You couldn’t make it up. Well, you could, I suppose, but I didn’t. Pure gold.