I’m talking about the Road Cycling World Championships; usually held in countries where the sport of cycling is likely to draw a crowd, and temperatures tend to stay below 40C, but this year held in Qatar. The sun is hot, the air is dusty, and the racing takes place against the backdrop of an empty desert, followed by laps around cordoned off city streets with barriers holding back precisely nobody.
We’re talking about temperatures so high that in the women’s team time trial Dutch rider Anouska Koster found herself veering off headlong into the barriers in a heat induced daze, and men’s time trial champion Tony Martin revealed he’d resorted to training in his bathroom with a heater on to replicate conditions. Not ideal weather for pro-cycling, that’s for sure.
I have experience of this kind of extreme heat.
A couple of years back, while riding in the Vosges Mountains in France, I remember the temperature in one particular valley, as we headed towards the lower slopes of the Col de Bramont, reaching a sweltering 38C. The gravel from the road surface was being picked up and embedded in my putty-soft bike tyres, such was the heat, and as I gasped great lungfuls of hot air and poured precious drinking water over my head I looked across to my riding partner.
His face appeared to be melting in the sun.
It’s possible my vision was being impaired as my brain was slow roasted in my helmet, and it’s equally likely that, being a man in his forties, that’s naturally what happens to his face under extreme conditions, but I remember clearly thinking that people shouldn’t ride bikes in these temperatures. Especially my mate, with his pasty northern complexion.
Which brings me to the World Championships in Yorkshire in 2019, and the near certainty that temperatures will barely break twenty degrees, never mind forty. And with weather at the polar opposite, the same will apply to the crowds. Nothing makes a bike race like thousands lining the streets and turning it into a party. Belgians are good at that and so, as demonstrated at the Tour de France in 2014, are we Brits.
I assume that guarantee of great crowds has something to do with Yorkshire’s current position of bike race host of choice – the contrast with Qatar couldn’t be greater.
I understand why the championships are taking place in Qatar, of course. It’s less to do with large numbers of spectators and more to do with large amounts of cash changing hands. Legitimately, of course, not in brown envelopes.
You’re thinking of Qatar’s successful Football World Cup bid for 2022.
But what’s the point of global expansion if it doesn’t lay down roots? Will we see, in ten years’ time, the streets of Doha thronged each Sunday morning with groups of cyclists heading out for the club run? Will we see Qatari cyclists entering bike races? Will the general public commute to work, and ride for pleasure, in the stifling desert dust and heat?
I assume that pro-cycling as a sport can’t afford not to do business with places like Qatar and, after all, not many places can compete with the budget of an Emirate. But I’m not judging Qatar as a place to do business, rather as a place to race bikes.
Roll on Yorkshire 2019.