Blazin' Saddles

Empire of the Sun

Blazin' Saddles

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Qatar is a land devoted to
giving - after all, there's no 'you' in Qatar
- and this has been borne out by an interesting few days racing in the sun.

A flat desert-covered peninsula with fierce,
dusty winds and camels roaming freely in and amongst newly built sky-scrapers -
Qatar
is hardly conducive to a competitive bike ride.

It's clear that having a ProTour bike event in Qatar
is simply a status symbol for the al-Thani royal family and the ruling rich
sheikhs. Think of it as a week's worth of Manchester
City or Chelsea
on wheels - bringing in the cream of the cycling crop to showcase your nation.

On paper, cycling seems like an odd choice for
a Middle Eastern Arab emirate that owes its wealth to its ridiculously huge oil
and gas reserves. Indeed, the idea of pedal bikes in Qatar
is a bit like a gathering of naval ships in Switzerland:
that's to say, rather out of place.

Out of place (and out of sight) too are the
traditional podium girls that habitually kiss the cheeks of each day's leading
riders. Qatari law doesn't allow for such scantily clad beauties so instead the
stage winners have to make do with a firm hand shake from men wearing
traditional Ghutra, Ogaal and Bisht.

This year's edition of the Tour of Qatar has
been rather eventful for a race which is usually won by a sprinter (and more
often than not, one going by the name of Tom Boonen).

Like a mirage appearing from the desert, Team
Sky won the opening team time trial, beating specialists Garmin and giving the
British press something to get carried away with: Bradley Wiggins leading his
team to victory in his first competitive ride for Sky.

The TTT finished next to two identical
jig-jagged buildings that looked like a giant sized game of Jenga - no doubt a
new hotel and shopping mall complex in the middle of nowhere.

Team Cervelo were clubbed with a harsh penalty
when a Chinese judge (?) spotted Heinrich Haussler pushing team-mate Gabriel
Rasch. The German Kangaroo, who Blazin' Saddles learnt this week is known as
'Barbie' by his team-mates, went on to finish second in both stages three and
four.

Not wanting to be outdone by the Vuelta or the
Tour, which recently ran stages on Formula 1 and Moto GP circuits, Qatar
officials decided to start stage two on their country's equivalent: a camel
race track. (Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home - even if no
one else can see her body or face.)

The camels clearly gave the top sprinters the
hump, with the peloton allowing a breakaway to triumph, with some Dutchman
taking the win and another topping the standards.

Still, it was back to business for Boonen in
stage three, the Belgian Ken keeping a strong line as he sniffed ahead of
Barbie leaving carnage in his wake. The road must have only just been finished
because there were a load of orange traffic cones running along the side which
some riders insisted on weaving in-and-out of like overly excited dogs in
Crufts. The ensuing pile-up was as inevitable as it was spectacular.

On to day four, which started upon an
artificial island called The Pearl, indicating that the seaside town planners
of the emirate not only have a lot of time on their hands, but also watch way
too much Lost. This time the stage was won by Liquigas's Francesco Chicchi, the
Italian dedicating his win to the Italian coach Franco Ballerini, who sadly
died in a car accident earlier in the week.

Aspiring American sprinter Tyler Farrar (did he
win Simon Cowell's Cycling Idol in the US?)
managed to puncture four times in the last 20km of the stage, ending his
chances of a stage win, but making many people laugh all the same. Who knows
what the last two days will bring?

TOTAL RECALL: One thing is clear from following the peloton
across roads flatter than a redneck joke in Arkansas
- and that is that many of the riders are damaged goods.

Indeed, faulty riders are being recalled as
quickly as a popular brand of Japanese hybrid car - not due to any ostensible
failure of their accelerators or breaks, but owing to the inability of their
collar-axel to withstand routine impacts.

Sky's veteran Norwegian Kurt-Asle Arvesen was
first to bite the dust after falling in the neutral zone of stage two and
breaking his collarbone. It clearly hurt and was a hassle for Arvesen.

Next up was Garmin's Steven Cozza who was in a
spot of bozza when he fell over his handlebar moustache and into a pothole,
fracturing his collarbone in the same place as it had broken in two previous
career crashes. Clearly Cozza's chassis is not up to it.

But he's in good company, for Milram's sprint
intern Gerard Ciolek also came a cropper after bring brought down by riders
trying to avoid the metal road reflector dots that are, apparently, often used
in Qatar.
A broken collarbone will keep the German out for two months.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Hmm... no one really opened their mouths this
week - probably in fear of swallowing a load of sand. But Greg Henderson did
tweet "I know 5 guys with broken collarbones from 2 days racing in Qatar"
which makes him 40 per cent better than Blazin' Saddles, who can only name
three.

Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the week on www.twitter.com/saddleblaze

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