Elite Cycling development in Qatar gathers pace

Qatar’s National Cycling team has made leaps forward during its summer campaign in Europe. This nascent squad, competing against experienced European Teams at UCI Continental level, were participating at a higher level than most of them had previously encountered. This plays a big role in the riders’ development for their long-term goals, such as the upcoming Asian Games 2022, and ultimately paving the road to Asian Games 2030.

Team Qatar was based out of their Novo Mesto training camp in Slovenia. Cycling fans have marveled at the strength of Slovenian Cycling in recent years, with two Grand Tour winners in Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic dominant in the sport. The country, with a population size only that of Doha, offers terrain and facilities which are ideal for world class cycling development. It is no accident that the World Tour giants, Team Bahrain Victorious, also choose to be based out of the capital city, Ljubljana. TBV honoured Qatar Cycling Federation’s Secretary General, Mr. Thani Al Zarraa, with a tour of their facilities – giving a first-hand opportunity to discover what is needed to keep a team winning at the top of the sport.

For seven weeks in July and August, Team Qatar developed race-craft in several local races in Slovenia, the most prestigious of which was a UCI accredited road race in Kranj. Head Coach Szymon Wasiak explains his strategy, “Although we came to Europe to train, we have also put a lot of emphasis on racing. We have had already a third weekend of competition, gaining much needed experience, for all, not just riders, as we have had a long break from proper international races.”

One week after Kranj, the team travelled to Vienna for the Austrian Cup Road Race. Bilal Alsaadi was the strongest of the Qataris over the 172 kilometer circuit, his team helping him to a creditable 38th place, just 1 minute 48 seconds behind the race winner Manuel Bosch (Team Felbermayr Simplon Wels).

The focal point of the tour was the 122 kilometer Military World Championships in France, where Qatar would compete at the highest level against world class army riders. Top cycling nations like France, Germany, Slovenia, The Netherlands and Ecuador represented.

For Qatar, again it would be Alsaadi who would lead. His lightweight climber’s build, matched by a maturing power as he reaches the senior ranks, makes him best suited to these hilly and undulating courses. He earned 29th place, behind Louis Pijourlet of France.

Coach Wasiak concluded, “This time is very important in our annual training program to increase the number of events which riders can participate in, gaining important experience for the riders and staff. It brings the team together which is the critical part in developing a strong team. Building the layers of racing is much more important that training itself as it’s pushing the riders to the higher level.

“Currently we are making the final touches in preparation for the World Time Trial Championships in Belgium where Fadhel Alkhater will be representing Qatar. We can watch a Qatari rider compete at this highest level of competition for the first time since the event was staged in Doha in 2016.

“The rest of the team, Marwan Aljalham, Bilal Alsaadi, Abdullah Afif, Nayef Al Mesallam, Ahmed Elbourdainy will be racing in Oman at the Tour of Salalah, a 4-day stage race mid-September.”

Such an intensive schedule is ground-breaking for the team. It is the first time it has been possible since Covid restrictions and these efforts to make up for lost time are fully supported by Qatar Cycling Federation. Mr Al Zarraa explained,” As a National Federation, we have to encourage such programmes. The team is hungry for this and is benefitting their development. They are getting exposure to the level desired, gaining much needed experience and finally honouring us by representing Team Qatar”

The Men’s Elite Time Trial World Championship is on Sunday, September 19th, with the first starts at 15:30 AST. Full details at www.flanders2021.com.