Riyadh to host inaugural Saudi international cycling race

Riyadh to host inaugural Saudi international cycling race
Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal is expected to reveal on Thursday that Riyadh will host the five-stage Saudi Tour 2020 from Feb. 4 to 8. (SPA)
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Updated 22 January 2020

Riyadh to host inaugural Saudi international cycling race

Riyadh to host inaugural Saudi international cycling race
  • This new race represents an exciting organizational challenge, a coherent sporting event for an entire category of riders

JEDDAH: Sports chiefs are gearing up to announce the Saudi city venue for a new international cycling race set to take place in the Kingdom.

Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal is expected to reveal on Thursday that Riyadh will host the five-stage Saudi Tour 2020 from Feb. 4 to 8.

The inaugural edition of the 2.1 category race is being staged by Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the organizer of the world-famous Tour de France.

Details of the route in and around the Saudi capital were due to be released during a press conference at Riyadh’s Digital City.

The cycling event precedes the Tour of Oman (Feb. 11 to 16) which is facing cancelation following the death of Sultan Qaboos.

ASO chief executive, Yann Le Moenner, said: “We are involved in the emergence of a new racing scene in the Middle East, which corresponds to the riders’ demand at the beginning of the year.

“The creation of the Saudi Tour and its sustainable installation in the calendar is part of this movement. This new race represents an exciting organizational challenge, a coherent sporting event for an entire category of riders, and a nice opportunity for the television viewers who follow the race to discover new landscapes.

“This is also, for us, an occasion to contribute to the development of cycling across the Kingdom,” he added.

Saudi Cycling Federation chief Sabah Al-Kraidees said it was an “honor” to have the inaugural Saudi Tour, noting that the event would help to promote the Kingdom as a tourist destination.

“The Saudi Tour is a great opportunity to publicize the country’s varied territories and historic sites and to let visitors discover our sense of hospitality. This initiative fits perfectly with the ambition of Saudi Arabia to promote the Kingdom beyond its borders through sports and especially cycling,” he added.

The five-day event will feature stages in the hills around Riyadh and on urban circuits.

The Kingdom recently began issuing tourist visas after travel to the country was largely limited to pilgrims, business travelers and resident workers.


Extreme E to launch in the desert of AlUla in one month

Extreme E to launch in the desert of AlUla in one month
Updated 04 March 2021

Extreme E to launch in the desert of AlUla in one month

Extreme E to launch in the desert of AlUla in one month
  • The new electric SUV series will take place in extreme environments around the world affected by climate issues

DUBAI: Extreme E’s first ever race is just one month away, and with 10 teams ready to compete, fielding a legendary line-up of champion drivers, the series is gearing up for an epic opening weekend of action when it all kicks off in AlUla, Saudi Arabia, on April 3-4.

Extreme E is a new racing series, which will see electric SUVs competing in extreme environments around the world which have already been damaged or affected by climate and environmental issues.

“We are a motorsports obsessed nation, with a long and proud history of hosting some of the world’s most famous rallies, and of our own drivers participating internationally,” said Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal.

“We have been honored by Extreme E choosing the dramatic natural landscape of AlUla to host its maiden race in April and we can’t wait to offer all of our support to ensure it goes down in history as an unforgettable new chapter for motor-racing.”

There are 10 teams signed up for Season 1 including three owned by current and former Formula One World Champions, with Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button founding X44, Rosberg X Racing and JBXE respectively.

Joining those teams will be ABT CUPRA XE, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team, Andretti United, Chip Ganassi Racing, Hispano Suiza Xite Energy Team, Team TECHEETAH and Veloce Racing.

The teams and cars are now making their way to Saudi.

“The St. Helena ship is on her way to Saudi Arabia, and it all feels very real.” Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Extreme E, said.  

“This momentous moment is the culmination of years of hard work and planning, and I know AlUla will capture our audience when they get to see this incredible place, such a special setting for our first race.”

The Extreme E driver line-up brings together champions from a variety of motorsport disciplines spanning single-seaters to rallying, rallycross, Dakar and sportscar racing: Mattias Ekström and Claudia Hürtgen (ABT CUPRA XE); Carlos Sainz and Laia Sanz (ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team); Timmy Hansen and Catie Munnings (Andretti United); Kyle LeDuc and Sara Price (Chip Ganassi Racing); Oliver Bennett and Christine Giampaoli (Hispano Suiza Xite Energy Team); Jenson Button (JBXE); Johan Kristoffersson and Molly Taylor (Rosberg X Racing); Stéphane Sarrazin and Jamie Chadwick (Veloce Racing); and Sébastien Loeb and Cristina Gutiérrez (X44).

“We’re only three months in, but 2021 has already been a monumental year for motorsport in Saudi Arabia, with our second Dakar Saudi held in January and our third Formula E race weekend in February,” Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF), said.

“Next, we combine what makes those two events so special – the unrivalled yet testing beauty of our vast desert landscape, and clean energy racing – in hosting Extreme E’s first ever event.”

Not only will Extreme E bring wheel-to-wheel racing to a global audience through its more than 40 international broadcasters, it has a wider purpose – to highlight the climate emergency affecting everybody worldwide.

Each destination has been chosen with a different environmental issue in mind: the Desert X Prix in Saudi Arabia will highlight desertification, the Ocean X Prix in Senegal rising sea levels, the Arctic X Prix in Greenland the melting ice cap, the Amazon X Prix in Brazil deforestation and the Glacier X Prix in Patagonia glacial recession.

The goals of Saudi Vision 2030 have driven considerable investment by the Kingdom into hosting some of the world’s biggest sporting events.

The aim is to introduce millions of Saudis to sport and promote wider sporting activity nationwide to ensure a healthier, more active population.

Phillip Jones, Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) Destination Management and Marketing Officer, is looking forward to offering AlUla’s desert landscape for the inaugural Extreme E X Prix.

“As a newly developing tourism destination, AlUla is uniquely positioned to get the foundations right from the outset,” he said.

“There are many initiatives underway in alignment with our 12 key strategic principles to develop a responsible tourism destination that focuses on safeguarding the natural and cultural landscape, sustaining eco-systems and wildlife and light-touch tourism experiences.

Members of Extreme E’s Scientific Committee have been working with the championship over the last two years to ensure the series leaves a long-lasting positive impact in each location through Legacy Programs, which include planting one million mangroves in Senegal and reforesting 100 hectares of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

The Legacy Program plans for Saudi Arabia will be revealed in the days leading up to the first race.

The Desert X Prix, AlUla, kicks off on Saturday, April 3 with the qualification rounds, and the final plays out on Sunday, April 4. Extreme E X Prix races are not open to fans to attend in person, but qualifications will be shown live on the Extreme E website, with the Finals broadcast live on MBC in the Middle East.


US Open tennis champ Thiem sets sights on Dubai glory

US Open tennis champ Thiem sets sights on Dubai glory
Updated 04 March 2021

US Open tennis champ Thiem sets sights on Dubai glory

US Open tennis champ Thiem sets sights on Dubai glory
  • Austrian is No. 1 seed at men’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships which start on March 14
  • Women’s event begins on March 7, will feature defending champion Simona Halep

DUBAI: Dominic Thiem will bid to become the first Austrian since Thomas Muster in 1997 to lift the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy when the tournament gets underway in a few days’ time.

The reigning US Open champion will be the top seed and will be hoping to emulate his legendary countryman who overcame Goran Ivanisevic in a thrilling final to claim the title. Since then, no other player from Austria has managed to land the coveted prize.

Thiem, who as well as defeating Alexander Zverev to win the 2020 US Open and making the final of both the 2018 and 2019 French Opens and the 2020 Australian Open, also reached the final of the ATP Tour Finals in the past two seasons.

But he has some catching up to do in Dubai, where in 2015, his only previous appearance, he fell in the first round to Roberto Bautista Agut.

“Dominic Thiem has already proven that he is worthy to be named alongside Thomas Muster as one of the greatest tennis players that Austria has produced,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free.

“His results, particularly over the past two seasons, have often been spectacular, and we very much look forward to welcoming him back to Dubai.”

Thiem, 27, will certainly provide excitement as well as showcase the skills that have seen him achieve outstanding results against the best in the game.

His US Open triumph was full of drama as he fought his way back from two sets down to claim his 17th career title in a fifth tie-break. He was the first player to win the US Open in a final set tie-break, the first to win there from two sets down since Pancho Gonzales in 1949, and the first to win any Grand Slam from two sets down since Gaston Gaudio at the 2004 French Open.

Having come so close to claiming his maiden Grand Slam crown three times before, the victory was a lifetime ambition and a huge relief to him.

“Yeah, definitely I achieved a life goal, a dream for myself, which I had for many, many years,” Thiem said after the final.

“Of course, as a kid when I started to play tennis, back then it’s so far away. Then I got closer and closer to the top. At one point I realized that ‘wow, maybe one day I can really win one of the four biggest titles in tennis.’

“I put a lot of work in. I dedicated basically my whole life until this point to win one of the four majors. Now I did it. That’s also for myself a great accomplishment,” he added.

Thiem’s chase for the title starts on March 14 and will follow the star-studded WTA1000 week which begins on March 7 and will feature defending champion Simona Halep, former Dubai winners Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina, and Belinda Bencic, 2020 US Open runner-up and WTA Comeback Player of the Year Victoria Azarenka, 2021 Abu Dhabi winner Aryna Sabalenka, 2020 French Open and 2021 Adelaide champion Iga Swiatek, former two-time Grand Slam champ Garbine Muguruza, and Tunisian sensation Ons Jabeur.

Tournament director, Salah Tahlak, said: “Excitement is mounting as we come closer and closer to two weeks of great tennis that is certain to produce many thrills and upsets.

“Dominic Thiem is such an exciting player to watch and will definitely start as one of the favorites for the title, but success is never guaranteed, and he faces a formidable challenge.”

Thiem will be in competition for the title against five-time 2020 title-winner and world No. 8 Andrey Rublev, 2021 ATP Cup finalist Matteo Berrettini, three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, 2020 US Open quarter-finalist Denis Shapovalov, 2020 Dubai semi-finalist Gael Monfils, 2018 Dubai champion Agut, 2021 Montpellier winner David Goffin, and 2020 US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta.


Al-Ahli, star striker Al-Somah struggling to cope with unrest on, off field

Al-Ahli, star striker Al-Somah struggling to cope with unrest on, off field
Updated 04 March 2021

Al-Ahli, star striker Al-Somah struggling to cope with unrest on, off field

Al-Ahli, star striker Al-Somah struggling to cope with unrest on, off field
  • Jeddah club being cut adrift in race for Saudi Professional League title

JEDDAH: Just four games ago, Al-Ahli were in the middle of the race for the 2020-21 Saudi Pro League title.

The Jeddah club were level on points with Al-Hilal in second and just two behind leaders Al-Shabab. It was more good news to follow the announcement in January that Omar Al-Somah, one of the best players in the history of Saudi professional football, had signed a new three-year contract amid worries that he had been set to leave for pastures new.

By the end of February, however, the club had slipped out of the top three into fourth with speculation of unhappy players, late salary payments, and possible transfer bans and points deductions uppermost in the minds of fans.

Their troubles seem to echo those of many big clubs around the world.

Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur saw their English Premier League challenges falter earlier this season after bad runs, as did Juventus in Italy’s Serie A. But there are deeper issues at stake at one of Asia’s proudest clubs.

Last week’s 3-0 loss against Al-Shabab showed a gulf in class and determination between the two teams that belied their relatively close positions in the league. The Riyadh club attacked fluidly from all parts of the pitch with imagination and drive while the visitors were second best in all aspects. It increased the disquiet around the three-time champions.

Star striker Al-Somah said after the loss that the coaches and the players were doing all they could but that the right investment had not been made to make the team, third last season but 14 points behind Al-Nassr in second, into genuine title challengers.

“There is a big difference between this Al-Ahli and the Al-Ahli I joined a number of years ago,” the Syrian player told reporters.

It had been building as, amid rumors of problems with payments, club president Abdulelah Mouminah had been criticized by the players when entering the dressing room after the previous game, a disappointing 1-1 draw with Al-Ain. That was not long after coach Vladan Milojevic was lamenting that he had not been able to strengthen the team’s defense in the winter transfer window – only seven clubs have conceded more than Al-Ahli’s 32.

As the likes of Manchester United have found in recent years, when things are not going well, past players are often ready to wade in and offer opinions which are lapped up by headline-writers. Al-Somah’s comments coupled with a relative goal drought have put him in the firing line.

Ali Al-Abdali enjoyed a decade at the club before leaving in 2008 and expressed his disappointment with the striker after the recent loss at Al-Faisaly, with the home team coming back from a goal down with seven minutes remaining to win 2-1.

“Al-Somah missed a good chance to open the scoring early in the game,” said Al-Abdali. “He then wasted a penalty and has not been at his best lately. He looks slow in his movement and has not scored for four games.”

It is true that Al-Somah has not been his usual electrifying self in front of goal this season though that may be due to the high standards he has consistently set. And it seems that when he does not score then Al-Ahli do not win.

In the past, when the team needed something special, he was there to deliver. The Syrian international joined the club in 2014 and has demonstrated amazing levels of consistency and quality. The 31-year-old was the top scorer in the league for three seasons from 2014 to 2017 and is the top foreign goal-scorer in the league’s history, with only Saudi legends Nasser Al-Shamrani and Majed Abdullah netting more in total. His goals played a major part in the club becoming champions in 2016, a first title in 32 years.

Al-Somah’s nine goals this campaign has him in the top 10 list of goal-scorers, but he has not quite matched his prolific high standards. Another ex-player said that the decision to renew the striker’s contract was not the right one, he has been distracted by off-the-field issues, and his comments have helped to create a negative atmosphere.

There is more, however, with reports that Djaniny Tavares, who left Jeddah for Galatasaray last October, is still owed money. If correct, then Al-Ahli face a potential deduction of points and even a transfer ban. It has also been suggested that Mouminah is on his way out.

It all leads to instability and disquiet. As always in football, victories can put everything in a better light, and all is not quite lost. The 2021 AFC Champions League kicks off next month and this presents the club’s best chance of a major trophy this year.

Before then though, there is the small matter of finishing in the top three at home to ensure qualification for next year’s continental tournament.

Saturday’s trip to second-from-bottom Damac offers an excellent opportunity to get back to winning ways but a failure to take it could turn a drama for one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest clubs into a crisis.


Aston Martin announce new AMR21 car on return to Formula One after 61 years

 Aston Martin announce new AMR21 car on return to Formula One after 61 years
Updated 04 March 2021

Aston Martin announce new AMR21 car on return to Formula One after 61 years

 Aston Martin announce new AMR21 car on return to Formula One after 61 years
  • The team formerly known as Racing Point is now officially Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team
  • Aston Martin will have former champion Sebastian Vettel and rising star Lance Stroll at the wheel

DUBAI: After a six-decade absence, Aston Martin is back in Formula One and on Wednesday revealed the car that it hopes will deliver success this season with former World Champion Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll at the wheel.

The team formerly known as Racing Point is now officially Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team, after the British manufacturer was last involved in the competition 61 years ago.

The unveiling of the new AMR21 was described by Aston Martin Executive Chairman Lawrence Stroll as an “important event in automotive history,” with the new contender being the first works Formula One car to carry the famous wings since Maurice Trintignant’s DBR5 crossed the finish line at Silverstone in 1960.

“It’s quite inspirational to get a marque like Aston Martin back on to the Formula One grid after 60-plus years and we’re all honored here at Silverstone to have the opportunity to work really hard at making an extremely competitive car as an Aston Martin for 2021,” said Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer.

The team is only days away from testing the new car with an eye on the start of the 2021 Formula One season at the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 28.

“I’m very excited to take it to our competition and I’m also very excited with the new driver line-up that we will have this year,” said Szafnauer. “We’re really hoping to continue on the same path that we left off last year (as Racing Point). The penultimate race, we won, and we had some very good performances toward the end of last year, and we hope that this year continues on that same path and that we’ll be fighting for podiums from the start of the season.”

Szafnauer admitted that last season the competition was fierce in midfield, with Racing Point finishing fourth in the Constructors standings, only seven points behind McLaren in third, and that there are ambitions to challenge the likes of Red Bull for second place.

“It was very, very competitive in the midfield last year, I see the same thing happening this year,” he said. “Towards the beginning of last year I think we were closer to Red Bull than toward the end. They seem to traditionally develop quicker in the season than the conception and not so much over the winter. So my anticipation is that if we come out as strong as we finished last year and we’ve done a good job over the winter, we should be a little bit closer to Red Bull but I anticipate those teams around us, McLaren, Ferrari, Renault, they’ll all do a good job over the winter.

Szafnauer believes Formula One learnt valuable lessons from last season and that there is a good chance the entire schedule will be completed. New to the calendar will be the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in December and he is sure that Aston Martin will be ready for the street circuit in Jeddah.

“We really look forward to the new venues and we will do our due diligence and homework to make sure that we understand the characteristics of the track and we have a good set up to start with,” he said. “We don’t get as much time to prepare this year. We get an hour less of pre-practice so that will have an impact, especially on road circuits where we go for the first time. So because of that we will run simulations of the circuit, we will understand the layout, we’ll understand what type of set-up we need to have so we are as prepared as we can be.”

“And as far as road circuits goes versus closed circuits like at Silverstone, we do race in some quasi-road circuits and some pure ones” Szafnauer added. “We’ll be at Singapore and at Monaco this year, so we’ll have good understanding of what it takes.”

With the Middle East races in Jeddah and Abu Dhabi scheduled to be the last two of the season, Szafnauer is optimistic that live audiences will be back in time to enjoy the campaign’s finale.

“I do anticipate fans to be back in the second half of the year,” he said. “I think in the first half of the year, I’m not so sure. Even last year we had fans at a couple of the races, not full grandstand but a significant amount of fans, 40,000 plus at some of the venues, and I think there will be more of that this year.”

Szafnauer says the team has changed significantly since his arrival over 10 years ago. “When I first arrived we were 280 people, we are nearly double that now. But since we became Racing Point and now Aston Martin that change has accelerated. Our ambitions have increased, our goals and objectives are loftier now.”

The grander ambitions were made clear with Vettel’s addition to the team, with the four-time champion (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)) bringing a wealth of experience and the specific know-how of what it takes to win the Formula One title.

That will bring added expectations.

“I think Aston Martin, the name itself, will command on-track performance and I can assure you Sebastian Vettel is only doing this for one reason and that’s to win again; he pushes like mad for on track performance,” Szafnauer said. “That to us isn’t really pressure. Because this team, from the days of Jordan, has always been about that.”

“All we do is work to make sure that car goes faster,” he said. “Every minute of every day, to make sure we make that car go faster and that’s what the Aston Martin name commands and for sure that’s what Sebastian pushes us toward.”


Mercedes-Benz EQ, NEOM bask in success of Diriyah E-Prix

Mercedes-Benz EQ, NEOM bask in success of Diriyah E-Prix
Updated 03 March 2021

Mercedes-Benz EQ, NEOM bask in success of Diriyah E-Prix

Mercedes-Benz EQ, NEOM bask in success of Diriyah E-Prix
  • Dutch driver Nyck de Vries leads ABB FIA Formula E World Championship after opening weekend win

DIRIYAH: Having celebrated a successful weekend at the Diriyah E-Prix, the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team and its principal partner NEOM have expressed their joy at the way the opening rounds of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship in Saudi Arabia have worked out for both parties.

On Friday, at the first ever night race to take place in Formula E, Nyck de Vries claimed a dominant victory for the German manufacturer in front of a delegation from NEOM. The Dutchman led the race from lights-to-flag, having set the quickest time in qualifying to start in pole position.

Ian James, Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team principal, said: “Both Nyck and (Belgian driver) Stoffel (Vandoorne) were able to demonstrate in Diriyah that we have developed a competitive package with the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02.

“Nyck’s performance and control of every session from FP1 to the first race is something which had not previously been seen in Formula E. We have been confident in his potential from the outset, and it’s great that the experience he developed throughout his first season has now been translated into his first Formula E win.”

De Vries continued his fast pace in Saturday’s second E-Prix, earning an additional championship point for the fastest lap, as he drove through the field to finish in ninth place following a challenging start to the day for the team. De Vries leaves Saudi Arabia at the top of the Drivers’ Championship, with 32 points from the opening weekend.

“It’s been terrific to be back on track and also to have many of our partners here to support us to kick-off the first FIA World Championship Season,” James added.

“I’d like to thank NEOM and all team partners for their continued support. It’s been a good start to season seven and we look forward to building on this for the next race.”

The partnership with Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team aims to accelerate NEOM’s ambitions to be at the vanguard of future technology and mobility and become a center for sporting excellence.

Jan Paterson, managing director of sport at NEOM, said: “It was great to see such a strong performance from the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team in the season opener in Diriyah.

“Working alongside the team is of key importance for us to realize our ambition to become a center of sporting excellence and a major participant in the world’s sporting landscape, and this weekend offered our employees a unique chance to engage and learn from a world-class team.”

As part of the knowledge-sharing program between the two organizations, 70 NEOM employees and stakeholders attended the Diriyah E-Prix, adhering to strict coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety protocols. During the pit lane walk, the delegation got a first-hand impression of how the world’s first net carbon-zero sport is accelerating adoption of electric vehicles.

Ahead of the start of the sport’s first FIA World Championship season, Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team racer Vandoorne put the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 through its paces along the spectacular Magna Road in NEOM in the north-western corner of the Kingdom.