Dubai, Qatar and Oman are not places where many cycling traditionalists ever thought they would see great racing but that is exactly what is happening today.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:39 PM

As the the globalisation of cycling inches along we can see some of the newer fixtures beginning to establish themselves with distinct narratives.

Of these, the three Arab races, Dubai, Qatar and Oman are emerging as events which not only attract the stars of the sport but are now beginning to produce attractive racing for fans.

There remains some disquiet about these races, with the purists seeing nothing but flat stage profiles and featureless dusty landscapes punctuated by incredible skyscrapers.

But we are becoming more accustomed to these environments and the kinds of racing they produce, and almost look forward to them precisely for their otherworldly, sometimes surreal difference.

And as as we become more interested, they too are growing into the sport along with their ambitions, with Qatar to host the 2016 UCI Road World Championships and Dubai announcing its long term intent to become a 12-stage WorldTour event.

"Our challenge is to be one of the top races in the world. There is no end to the possibilities and no end to the dream. If we can organise four stages, it is not difficult to organise 12 stages," said Saeed Hareb, of the Dubai Sports Council, which organises the race with the assistance of RCS Sport, the owners of the Giro d'Italia.

"We want to grow, but there is no hurry. Our dream is to be there, but how, where and when? I think we need more experience and give our people here the time to be in a position to take on more than 10-12 stages."

While the course was flat and favoured the sprinters, the racing at the Ladies Tour of Qatar was excellent, with enough gutter riding to satisfy any purist.



And the same is happening at this weeks men's race. Stage 2 of the men's Tour of Qatar featured a sandstorm, and the kinds of winds which produce interesting tactical racing and uncertain outcomes.



The peloton averaged 54.4km/h in the first two hours of racing, and the splits engineered by Etixx-QuickStep's Tom Boonen were everywhere.

"Today was incredible. It was one of the most exciting days I've seen from a team car. The riders went full gas from kilometer zero to the finish in sandstorms and crosswind with gaps being created all over the place," Tinkoff-Saxo sport director Tristan Hoffman said post race.

Team Katusha sports director Torsten Schmidt agreed with that assessment.



"This was maybe the hardest stage I have ever seen here in Qatar. A very strong wind, high pace, permanent echelons and fighting for the position in the front made this stage a real struggle."

Oman on the other hand presents us with a different menu to the over the top speedy bling of Dubai and Qatar.

With its stunning mountainous terrain, Oman now a early season favourite of the Grand Tour general classifications riders, and one they want to win as they gauge their form.

Its winners? Fabian Cancellara, Robert Gesink, Peter Velits, Chris Froome and Froome again in 2014. This year it looks like Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali will take the honours as he uses the race to prepare for his July defence.

The field will include BMC'S Peter Velits and Tejay van Garderen, Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Mathias Frank (IAM) and Leopold Konig (Sky).

"I like this race," Nibali told Cycling Weekly. "I've had great satisfaction in Oman in the past, like my win at the Green Mountain in 2012. I hope to win there again even though I know I'll face a fierce competition."

His coach Paolo Slongo confirmed that his charge is targeting an overall victory on the Matrah Corniche when the race ends on 22 February.

The Arab races present us with an unfamiliar landscape and platform for the sport but its one that is growing on me. I'm watching with interest as they develop and while initially dismissing them I now look forward to their difference.