Relaxing before the Doha International GP in Qatar, some pros took advantage of being in the capital
It’s surprising just how few professional cyclists enjoy watching football. For most, only the automobile can take them away from their passion for cycling. But it’s a different matter if you’re Italian. When the Aljazeera Sport Channel, who have a team in this year’s Doha GP and Tour of Qatar, invited race organisation, riders and press to watch a match between two of the state’s top teams – Al Arabi and Rayyan – the Italian riders on the Saunier Duval and CSC teams could barely contain their excitement. Most vociferous among the gaggle of pros at the match were CSC’s Fabrizio Guidi and Giovanni Lombardi, and 1999 Paris-Roubaix winner Andrea Tafi of Saunier Duval who, at nearly 39, frankly should have known better. Former Barcelona and Dutch national squad player Frank de Boer captained Rayyan, impressing the star-struck pros so much that they rushed to the barriers to grab a closer look at the defender as he headed to the changing room at half-time. Argentine World Cup hero Gabriele Batistuta, however, was not able to turn out for Al Arabi due to injury, much to the riders’ disappointment. But, having prevented mass Mediterranean hysteria, it was probably for the best. And with a Batistuta-less Al Arabi down 1-0 to De Boer’s Rayyan, the Italians thought it only sporting to side with the losing team, and, to almost tearful joy, were rewarded when Al Arabi levelled the score half-way through the second half. With time running out, enthusiasm made way for out-and-out delirium of almost embarrassing levels when Al Arabi appeared to score again in the last minute of the game, only for the goal to be disallowed for reasons unclear, with the offending referee on the receiving end of the southern Europeans’ cries of despair. So 1-1 it ended, and the cyclists’ thoughts, at least publicly, turn once again to two wheels. But with a day off between the Doha GP and the start of the Tour of Qatar, don’t bet against those Italians pedalling up to their Aljazeera colleagues during Saturday’s race to ask if they’ve got any more spare tickets for Sunday afternoon.