Unlike anywhere else on the planet, Sharjah is the third largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirate (UAE) and is the only one emirate to have direct land access to both the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. An emirate of contrasts, boasting some region’s most beautiful scenery and its vast diversity, Sharjah offers an overabundance of options that cater to every taste.
Cycling Malaysia is appreciative of the invitation and importance to be part of an international cycling race in the 3rd largest city in UAE. All was made possible courtesy of Sharjah Sport Council and we would love to show gratitude for the generous arrangement and hospitality to none other than Sharjah Tour 2018.
Being held from 24th to 27th January 2018, it was also the first official race for Terengganu Cycling Team (TSG), a Malaysian UCI continental team of which turned out to be the only Malaysian team to be present in. This international stage race comprising 4 stages, organized according to UCI rules and classified as a UC 2.1 Men elite event in the Asian Tour. Like any other races, riders and all cars in the convoy must follow the instructions of Police, race-marshals and respect the UAE traffic rules.
THE PRE-RACE COUNTDown
After our arrival at Dubai International Airport, it then took us about an hour to be transferred to Sharjah, the official venue. Meticulously organized, everyone who was involved in the race consisting of riders, director sportive, members of media, committees, and commissaires altogether stayed over at Hotel Holiday International, headquarters of the race.
Hailing from the cycling industry, the initiative of exploring the community in UAE instantly spurred on us. To some people, it might sound unfathomable to perceive the passion for this sport. Undeniably, each person in the race had got the dedication and tenacity towards a sport that is much loved correspondingly. A day before the official start, we tagged along with TSG and gained insights into their pre-race preparation in a UCI race.
One of the common phenomena in a multiple stage cycling race is the spacious unoccupied area for bicycle setups provided by the organizer. Every team alongside the technicians can be seen utilizing the space to fix their bicycles.
We met Ameer Khaleed, who is reaching the 8th year as a technician with TSG, was assigned to hold the responsibility to handle every bicycle tune-ups for six of the riders at Sharjah Tour. Started as an admin, he became a technician in 2014. Having to perform such a significant role like his, preparing a complete mechanical tool set with spare parts and tires is particularly critical and essential to be carried around during a race. “Usually, I do not borrow tool set from others, as I am familiar with the tools I have always been using,” said Ameer.
Before riders head out for a race, it is important to make sure that their bikes are ready for the road to stay safe and avoid a roadside malfunction. Every check can help to prevent unwanted incidents that could delay riders to the race, especially riding in a peloton.
Ameer’s responsibility also includes comprehending riders’ geometries, figures and styles. By understanding each rider’s role, he has to assure that he gets their bike tune-ups accurately. “Rim is the most imperative part. Moreover, I will check and inspect the wheels to make sure the quick-release skewers are tightened correctly,” he explained. Averagely, Ameer will prepare two spare tires for each rider as a replacement for one that goes flat, a blowout or other emergency.
From chamois cream, hot ointment, pain relief spray to muscle rub, these are the necessaries that will be equipped for the riders in every race. Norhisammuddin Hilmi, better known as Din has a vital role to play in TSG in being not only a physiotherapist but also a masseur.
Before and after a hard-hitting race, massage is a key and significant part for the riders. Din is at the wheel of getting the riders’ legs massaged to lower their leg fatigues. Substantially in TSG riders’ cases, they often ride hard and race for 100 to 200 kilometers, every pre and post-race massage helps to loosen tight muscles and improve blood circulations.
Aside from the regular massage into riders’ regimen, Din prepares chamois cream and other kinds of embrocation that riders use to reach their optimal performance. Chamois cream may sound strange to the novice riders, but its function is to eliminate friction between bare skin and clothing and prevent saddle sores on the bike.
Being a skilled masseur and physiotherapist, Din is proficient in identifying riders’ discomfort “I provide them a deep tissue massage every time before a race, and target riders’ muscle-tendon junctions to give ample time to get over the tense legs,” Din described.
Nutrition and Hydration
Din is also given a consequential task to make ready riders’ nutrition. Every rider has a different preference for the choices of nutrition. In addition to the generous selections of energy bars, drinks, and gels, the multitasked physiotherapist has to be versed in all riders’ menus. For instance, there are six riders in every cycling race, hence Din’s pivotal role is to ensure them the sufficient nutrition.
Hydration is equally as important as food when it comes to nutrition for riders. Essential vitamins and minerals must be properly absorbed in riders’ bodies. Din’s task also takes account of infusing riders’ water bottle with fluids to boost electrolytes and energy, which helps to increase concentration and endurance performance.
The noteworthy person in TSG has absolutely got to be Jeremy Hunt, the head coach of the team. Having also acted as the Director Sportif (DS) at Sharjah Tour, this retired racing cyclist perform management duties at a number of different levels. For a professional team like TSG, he has to be sure each rider to be the best of his position. From supervising riders’ training programs, overseeing riders’ development to interpreting race courses, Jeremy holds a weighty responsibility.
Apart from riders’ training regimen, Jeremy has to deal with a lot more to road racing. It is imperative for a professional team to go into races with a methodical pre-race strategy. From selecting the right riders for the race course to having a plan for every possible scenario in the race, the veracious preparation and racing tactics are in a head coach / DS’s hands. For instance, he will determine the team position within the peloton. Having riders sprinkled throughout the peloton will allow Jeremy to cover or respond to any attack or situation that occurs in a race.
Last but not least, it is extremely important and avoidable to get riders’ number plates and race numbers in position before a race. Every member of a team will have to make certain that everything is in order.
THE OFFICIAL RACE
With Sharjah’s bold architecture and audacious style, the city presents a distinct fusion of its mixture of heritage and ultramodern style all its own. The race venue of Sharjah Tour did not just live up to its reputation, it also completely exceeded our expectations. From the city’s glitz and glam, the ancient traditions to the magnificent deserts and pinnacles, it felt not only like a cycling race to us, but more than everything we could ever imagine.
The first stage of the Sharjah Tour was an individual time trial of 10.2km. According to the riders, there was nothing too arduous and wearying. In an individual time trial, riders set off one at a time at regular intervals, and the competitor completing the course in the fastest time is the winner. This particular stage started and ended in front of Sharjah Islamic Bank, Mamzar.
The following stages of the race turned out to be beyond our imagination. We hopped into TSG’s team car for all stages and the configuration in the car was eye-opening. The order of the team cars in the following convoy is determined by the riders’ ranking in the overall classification. The second stage played over 151.5km between Al-Bataeh Sport Club and Maliha Sport Club. The car was not only cramped with gigantic box storing beverages and food, mechanical tools, and spare tires, there were also tons of titbits to be munched during the race.
Jeremy took the responsibility to drive, while Ameer and Din prepared themselves at the backseat. We had the privilege to grab the passenger seat, therefore taking pictures became so much easier. “Bike change,” “Feeding,” the urgent calls came kilometer after kilometer. DS and team technician paid attention to every news crackling on the communal race radio.
Whenever a TSG rider was announced, Jeremy had to sprint forward him, and quickly resolved any issues during the race, then pushed him off. In the backseat, Ameer who was trying to fix the broken gears for the riders as quickly as possible as they could catch up and slot in with the convoy again.
Racing along mostly deserts, we indulged ourselves in the breath-taking scenery at the same time concentrating on the live radio. The third stage of the 116.7 kilometers Sharjah Tour between Dibba Al Hisn City Corniche and Wadi Al-Helo Ladies Club. Jeremy, Ameer, and Din communicated strategy and tactics while referring to a race manual, and updated riders’ mileages on times.
However, when a rider needed help from the team car, he pulled to the back of the peloton nearby the race official as known as the commissaire. After raising signals to the official and passing on his problem, it would then be aired to all race vehicles, and the team car would drive forward to assist.
The fourth and final stage covered 10 laps around Heart of Sharjah, Souq Al Shanasiyah for 99.1km To our surprise, this stage was preferably relaxing, albeit the occasional feeding time for the riders. Everything else went smoothly. Unlike the third stage, the final stage did not involve any strenuous climb. Sitting in the team car, we were left flabbergasted while glazing through the glass window at the city of Sharjah. We were amazed at how modern everything was, even the architectures of mosques were flattering to see.
It had been an unexpectedly enlightening process out of the Sharjah Tour. Although the race may get tense in places, or full of obstacles, everyone in a team car accomplished tasks on a cooperative effort. After all, the mission of a team over the course is necessary to make sure the riders can successfully make it to the finish through the entire race.
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