Muscat: The Middle East’s first ever Haute Route cycling event got off to a flying start in Oman on Friday, with more than 200 riders taking on the daunting challenge of the Jabal Akhdhar mountain climb. Stage 1 of the three-day Haute Route Oman adventure saw an enthusiastic international field of amateur road cyclists stream across the start line in Nizwa and head off into the Al Hajar mountain range. Visitors from 26 countries rode alongside local Omani cyclists, as well as high-profile names including the 2009 F1 World Champion racing driver Jenson Button.
Making the most of cool 17°C conditions the peloton set a steady pace in the early stages, the riders staying close together and creating a striking image in their distinctive black cycle clothing supplied by Léger, the event’s official clothing supplier, before the long mountain climb stretched the field. At the finish Swiss rider Guillaume Bourgeois led the way, ahead of Australia’s Adrian White and Thomas Berger from France, with no fewer than seven different nationalities in the top 10. Hatim al Booshri was the first Omani rider to finish, crossing the line in 12th place.
“It was pretty hard, a very steep climb, especially the first part,” said Bourgeois. “It is my first time in Oman and it is a good race to start the season and I am happy as always — it’s amazing with a beautiful landscape, pretty cool. Everything went well today, it was pretty windy at the end but it was OK.”
In fact, due to high wind speeds after the Jabal Akhdhar section, organisers from Haute Route Oman hosts Oman Sail decided to shorten the course to ensure rider safety was maintained.
Meanwhile, Haute Route Oman has already set a record with women making up one-sixth of the field, the highest proportion in Haute Route history. First to finish was British rider Lisa Goodall in 43rd place as part of the mixed duo Team Bee, while another UK entry, Helen Sharp, was the first solo women rider across the line in 49th. “It’s been amazing, a complete surprise and it was just a fantastic ride, I loved it,” said a delighted Goodall, who is among the 56 per cent of the field taking part in their first ever Haute Route event.
“It has been brilliant, really emotional, I wasn’t expecting it at all and it is just fantastic as I have never raced before. It’s a great country and people are really friendly and the scenery is amazing, the mountains are beautiful.”
Also on his first Haute Route was Jenson Button, who finished the opening day in 34th place and admitted he had found the climb hard going. “It was extremely tough and it definitely makes a man of you — I was in my bottom gear the whole way up the climb and I could just turn the pedals,” said the 15-time Grand Prix winner who is also co-founder of the Leger clothing range.
“It’s amazing to see so many people who have come and put the training in and push themselves to the maximum — this is really tough.”
Speaking soon after crossing the finish line he said: “I am happy now and we all put ourselves through a lot of pain. I have never done a cycle event that is more than one day so I will see how I feel tomorrow, but I am looking forward to it.”
And he added: “It was great to see the clothing held up, and I thought we all looked fantastic.”
Saturday’s Stage 2 will take the field on a 145 km course, with another long road climb up Al Hamra. Haute Route Oman concludes on Sunday with individual time trials finishing in Misfat Al Abriyeen.