Strong racing for National Team at Tour of Salalah
Bilal Al Saadi claimed second place at the Tour of Salalah in a race which marked a major improvement in strength of the Qatar National Cycling Team.
Al Saadi, still only 19 years of age and gaining form, also takes home the best young rider jersey after placing 5th, 3rd, 1st and 17th on each day of the four-stage race. After eight and a half hours of racing, tour winner Jaber Al Mansoori (UAE) lay just 38 seconds ahead of the youngster, with a 2 min 8 second gap back to Mostafa Alrabie (KSA) in third place.
The tour comprised of a variety of tests. The prologue being just six kilometers and the first of two stages where Team Qatar would win the team prize – aided by a win from Ahmed Elbourdainy, ahead of Qatari teammate Abdullah Al Jaidi, with Bilal Al Saadi in 5th place.
Stage two would be the UAE team’s. They claimed it with a decisive first and second place which were the start of their progression to the overall win and the overall team prize. Al Saadi explained, “We came out of the first stage with the race lead, the points jersey and the young rider jersey to defend. With intermediate sprints at 40 kilometers and 80 kilometers, we worked together to help Ahmed [Elbourdainy] get the points but it was so hard in the cross-winds and UAE were smart – they did no work and, after the second sprint, all five attacked as a team.”
Al Saadi and Alrabie (KSA) went with them but in the tough cross-winds the group fractured further. Bilal finished on the third step of the podium that day, losing 33 seconds to Al Mansoori but gaining over two minutes on the Saudi rider.
Bilal Al Saadi’s most impressive performance came on the 101 kilometer third stage, which finished at 900 meters altitude after a long climb. An eleven-man group escaped from the main field as the race headed up the switch-back road into the Dhofar mountains but just four remained to contest the sprint. The Qatari rider took a well-deserved win and ranks this as his best ever result but admitted to being so overjoyed that he celebrated almost too early and only narrowly avoided throwing away his victory.
The fourth and final stage returned to the coastal plains. On the previous day’s mountain, the UAE’s Al Mansoori had successfully defended his lead in the general classification and all three tour leaders were content to take shelter in the peloton. This was to be the second stage where Qatar took the team prize: Abdullah Al Jaidi (Qatar) narrowly losing out to Khalid Mayouf (UAE) in the sprint, Marwan Al Jalham fifth placed and Ahmed Elbourdainy coming seventh. This result would also prove enough for Elbourdainy to narrowly hold onto his third place overall in the points (sprint) classification by a single point.
Returning to Qatar with an overall second place, a Young Rider jersey, a bronze medal in the points competition, fourth in the team competition, two stage wins and five podium placings – this 2021 Tour of Salalah is emphatically the Qatar National Cycling Team’s most successful racing to date.
Present at the race, Mr Jamal Al Kuwari, Qatar Cycling Federation’s executive director, expressed his pride in the team’s performance against strong opposition in hot and humid conditions, “Qatar was on the podium every day and to win the gold medal on the most difficult stage after a 21 kilometer climb is really worthy of celebration. Our thanks go to the heroes who worked together to earn these results and to Bilal Al Saadi and Nayef Al Mesalam who are the new riders for the future of the sport in Qatar.”