So here I am lined up on the starting grid of the Yas Marina Formula 1 race circuit, but on a bike. Quite a weird feeling. I’ve flown around 8 hours straight to the desert to be here and it is 6am. Not so bad for a race you might think, but that meant waking up at 12am UK time. Not too sure how the body clock is going to cope with that change, but I’ve been doing a fair bit of training over the winter so I’ll give it all I’ve got. 2 minutes to the start now. Is that rain? Yes. Yes it was.
A sudden and unexpected burst of rain fell. Whilst the locals dived for cover, you could tell who was up for it by who stayed on the start-line. British Airways were here to win and win well and most of the team were still around me. We had 9 riders in total, with confusingly 4 James’s and 2 Ian’s including Rocket. This was the 3rd edition of the Airline World Championships, and BA’s James Bonham had won the previous 2, so no pressure then. To be honest I just wanted to finish. First lap was behind some pace motorbikes to have a look at the course and then we were off. Race time. Fairly early on 2 escaped off the front including James Bishop from BA. That was great as it meant we (me!) didn’t have to chase. It had stopped raining but the surface was damp, which perhaps unsurprisingly, was causing some of the locals a few issues. Thanks to racing at Stratford velopark I was used to gash riding and kept myself out of harms way. Just as well as 2 nasty crashes took out around 10 riders including 2 from our team, and left another group including Dad chasing to get back on. During the carnage, another group of 3 escaped off the front including Bonham making an elite group of 5. We never saw them again. With BA, Etihad and Emirates all up the road, no one wanted to chase and Dad’s group got back on just before the finish. Now the Championships are actually a team event and we needed to place 3 our nominated 4 riders as high as possible. With 1 crashed out and 2 up the road we only had 1 left with us in the bunch. So I decided to do what looked good on TV and lead him out for the sprint. This was perhaps unnecessary as this rider was ex-pro Steve Calland and he fairly swiftly came off my wheel and took a convincing bunch win for 6th. Still, it was a nice feeling to get to the end and be able to offer at least something. With BA 1,2, 6 we had smashed the race and won 3 age categories and the overall team prize. Mission accomplished.
Abu Dhabi Pro Tour Challenge Race
12 hours after the road race, Dad and I were back where we started. We had decided to ride the challenge race. Open to all members of the public, this was a 6 lap elimination race. A mass start behind a pace car which got faster every lap and if you didn’t make the time cut you were out. The last lap would be a normal race. Sounded interesting.
It was dry at least but all sorts were here. Mountain bikes, racing bikes, Boris Bikes, some knob dressed up in German National kit on a team Lotto race bike. Oh no, that really is Andre Griepel. Much smaller in real life. Well, the first 2 laps were nice and steady so I had a chat with him. I told him to be careful because there was a nasty hill halfway round the track just before the finish. He laughed. But two laps later he was dropped. Was he scared of the dodgy riding, was he just saving his legs, who knows, but I had lasted longer than him. The car was by now doing 28mph and the guys directly behind it were hardly pedalling. Team Crest was going flat out and with the TTT in 12 hours time called it a night and left the last lap to the drafters. Team Time Trial-Al Wathba Circuit
Simple, 10 Teams of 4 around the 30km purpose built cycling circuit. Located 30 minutes in the middle of the desert I wasn’t expecting much. But I was wrong; here was a dead smooth, nice and wide race circuit over rolling terrain. Stranger still there was huge floodlights every 50meters or so, for the whole 30km, apparently because in summer the only time you can ride is when the sun has set!
Our team had picked up a few injuries but we soldiered around the course finishing in just over 45minutes, which was good enough for 5th. Our A team came 1st in just over 40 minutes taking the win by nearly a minute. This concluded the championships, which had been very successful for BA apart from the injuries, which was a real shame. Maybe racing at Stratford isn’t so bad…
Abu Dhabi itself
Everything is on a massive scale. The roads, the malls, the buildings, but most of it seems completely unnecessary. They just do it because they can. This even extends to people. Gas pump attendants, litter pickers on every road, valet parking, bag packers at checkouts and toilet attendants in every public loo. Stuff the UK got rid of decades ago to save money, but here it is seen as a sign of economic strength, using mainly foreign labourers.
A trip to Dubai revealed that there is on an even larger scale. Indoor ski slopes, the world’s tallest building and massive artificial islands to resemble palm trees and even another one is of the world. All very nice but it doesn’t serve any real purpose. Just because they can. But the oil money is drying up so one wonders how sustainable it all is. Still, a very interesting and eye-opening part of the world, so you should have a look around at least once. I plan on going back to Dubai for the 2018 World Championships.