Watching the 2012 UCI Road World Championships in Valkenburg, I couldn't help but be inspired.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

The crowds were thick and vocal, international, and colourful. The racing was fierce and competitive, and mixed in with the tried and true purist format was the novel addition of a team time trial which was positively received by riders and fans alike.

But taking it all in, I couldn't help but feel disheartened that such a brilliant event - and it is brilliant each and ever year - will be heading to the deserts of Qatar in 2016.

It's not just disheartening, but perplexing and it goes against everything the world championships has for so long represented.

Including this year, the worlds have been held a mere six times outside of the Continent since the inaugural edition in 1927, and for good reason.

Cycling though global, at an elite level is fundamentally based in Europe, and, with the tradition and history of the races it hosts, probably always will be.

It has the most ardent supporters, the strongest participation rates, and the most legendary climbs. Think the yellow and black Flandrian flags atop the Kwaremont, the over-subscribed sportives, and the ethereal quality of the Alps or the Dolomites.

When it has gone outside of the continent it's gone to places, with rich associations with the sport. Australia, Canada, the US, Colombia, Japan have all hosted world championships. The US will again host it in 2015.

But Qatar? I'm all for expanding frontiers and bringing cycling to different parts of the world, but a world championship in Qatar?

This is wrong on oh so many levels.

According the UCI the decision to go with Qatar came after:

"(The Qatar bid) presented an extremely interesting project which incorporated innovative solutions which allowed for the designing of a technically interesting course, we are greatly looking forward to working with them."

Innovative? Like artificial clouds over stadiums as proposed for the 2022 FIFA world cup? Air conditioning? Temperatures will of course be in excess of 35 degrees Celsius in and around Doha in September.

Prolonged high-intensity physical activity in extreme heat is incredibly dangerous. While Football lasts for never more than 120 minutes, plus breaks, a world championship road race typically lasts over six hours of uninterrupted physically demanding exertion.

And what about the course? Qatar is one of the ">flattest countries in the world. Its ability to offer up even small climbs to make a worlds course even mildly interesting is questionable.

But perhaps, this is where the innovation will really come in. Like man-made island resorts such as the Pearl, I'm sure Qatar could whip up a few Bergs out of thin air for a world championship. Alpe d'Huez and the Kemmelberg in the same race raised made from sufficient petrodollars! How fun.

At least the locals will be able to cheer on their Qatari cycling heroes. Oh wait, there are none. Qatar failed to qualify a single rider for the worlds road race this year, but hey, so what? Oh and the locals? Well they won't exactly be lining the wind-swept highways five-deep. Just ask a Tour of Qatar veteran in Jean Michel-Monin.

The Frenchman rode 11 editions of the race, and said that there was little local engagement of cycling. Despite growing international fields he said crowds had flagged over the last few years.

"The nationals like to support local outfits, more than international stars. Many expatriates still turn up... but the local fan flavour is missing."

Though the UCI does claim to have an internal policy document which it uses to assess bids, you don't have to be rocket-surgeon to suggest that this is largely a question of the moolah.

The UCI in its financial accounts for 2011 reported gross income from road world championships as representing more than 45.3 per cent of its total revenues.

As the Inner Ring blog points out here, the significant money earners include TV rights, 'hosting fees' and sponsorships, with very little in the way of overheads for the governing body.

It's not all that surprising that the UCI would be 'cashing in' on a Qatar champs considering how much it bolsters the organisation's bottom line. And if you take the view that the money raised from such an event could go to more doping tests, subsidising other disciplines and promoting the sport, then there may be at least some salvageable merit in Qatar's bid.

But for me this is an injustice to the sport, and something that shouldn't go ahead. The commercial realities of sport are one thing, but a world championship deserves respect.

If the governing body is so intent on giving Qatar a world championships, a Track champs inside an air-conditioned velodrome would be far more appropriate. Or perhaps a WorldTour-licensed Tour of Qatar.

As things stand Qatar still has a long way to go to ever be an legitimate road worlds venue. Let's hope we've yet to see the end of this saga, which comes as the latest in a farcical few months (years) for cycling and the UCI.