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Doha worlds to feature challenging, maze-like circuit

DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Much like the Persian Gulf state of Qatar and its capital city of Doha, the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in October will wallow on glitz and glamor. The circuit will unfold on a $15 billion artificial island — amid high-rise towers with luxury homes and shops — that sprung up from nothing over the last 10 years. John Lelangue, the national federation’s director of sport, says the island loop makes sense.

The Doha worlds builds on the Tour of Qatar, which has been on the calendar for 15 years, and acts as gear in Qatar’s methodical drive to host the Olympics. It is the first time the UCI will host a world championships in the Middle East.

“We have a worlds circuit that constantly changes direction,” Lelangue told VeloNews. “You will always have to be in the front to relaunch after each change of direction.”

Unlike the Tour of Qatar with its wind-swept desert roads to the north and west of Doha and its final stage along the city’s shore flanked with gardens, the worlds mostly keeps to the new island development north of the city center. Only the men will race on the desolate roads that often split the peloton into bits and force riders into angular lines or echelons to survive.

The men will start at Sealine Beach to the south of Doha and will cover 73.5 kilometers before reaching the 15.3km circuit. The women stay close to Qatar’s oil-rich and rapidly expanding heartland of Doha, with a start only 16km away at the Aspire Zone sport complex.

Even if the local organizer wanted to do differently, a UCI rule stipulates at least 100km of a worlds course needs to be on the circuit. Wind and will permitting, that leaves the elite men to try to explode the peloton of national colors between Sealine Beach and Doha to the north. The rest will unfold on the maze-like island circuit that includes more turns than any recent edition of the worlds.

“It depends on the wind, if it is windy like today, it could be really challenging,” Lelangue said before the second stage at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, which saw the group shattered after 1km because of wind. “It could be cross-winds, it depends on where the wind will be. The last two years, in the same period, it was really windy. Will it be windy in October 2016? I don’t have any guarantees.”

As with the Tour de France that finishes each year on Paris’s famous Champs-Élysées and under the Arc de Triomphe, the Qatari stage race concludes with laps along the garden-flanked Corniche with a hot dog circuit that runs up and down so local sheikhs may have a good seat.

“The Corniche is a really good thing for the last stage of the Tour of Qatar because people spend their Fridays there, but for the world championships, if you have to make 18 loops on the Corniche, I’m not sure it’d be very interesting,” Lelangue said. “If there is an escape, the group would see it passing on the opposite U-turn. Instead, we have a worlds circuit that constantly changes direction, you will always have to be in the front to relaunch after each change of direction. It is also good for the fans, who can see the race two to three times each circuit.”

The women in the Tour of Qatar began their final stage Friday morning from the Aspire Zone, the start of the worlds. Likewise, the men will start the final stage of their race at Sealine Beach next Friday.