RIYADH: A total of 112 leading local and top international cyclists representing 16 teams are participating in the long-awaited Saudi Tour that started today and ends on Feb. 3.
The announcement of the field was made at a press conference on Sunday in AlUla, in the presence of several of the riders and officials from the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Arabia Cycling Federation.
Present at the event was the SACF’s spokesperson Abdulaziz Al-Shahrani, spokesperson for the Royal Commission for AlUla Philip Jones, spokesperson for the Amaury Sports Organization Gion Marino, Saudi national team cyclist Hassan Al-Jumaa, Dutch cyclist Dylan Groenewegen and German cyclist John Degenkolb.
“Saudi Arabia’s hosting of such sporting events increases the culture of practicing sports, especially since the mass base for cycling is large and growing,” said Al-Shahrani. He said this would serve as a massive boost for the sport domestically.
Jones said he was pleased to host the Saudi Tour for the second time in AlUla, which would consolidate the region’s spectacular growth of the past few years. He commended the partnership between AlUla Governorate, the Ministry of Sports, and the SACF.
“If you haven’t been to AlUla in the past year, you really haven’t been (anywhere),” Jones told Arab News. “This destination has undergone significant change, and if you look around, you will find new hotels, restaurants, several new visitor assets, and we are adding a new district called Al-Jadida. Hosting an event like the Saudi Tour allows us to invite international media so they can witness the changes for themselves.”
Commenting on the Australian Jayco AlUla team, sponsored by the RCU, Jones said: “They have great chances in the race, and I am a fan of it, especially since we sponsor this team, and it bears the name of the city that we aspire to be the most civilized city in the world.”
Amaury’s Marinon said the five new routes of the race, over a total distance of 830 kilometers, with new areas and locations, would provide an ideal platform for the contestants to perform.
“The countries of the world are following with enthusiasm the course of the race this year,” said Marinon. “There are many different programs allocated in different countries to cover the event.”
Dutch cyclist Groenewegen said: “I am excited about this race, and I came to AlUla to win. And I also feel very proud to be in the 2023 Saudi Tour.”
During the inauguration ceremony of the Saudi Tour, Deputy Minister of Sports Badr Al-Qadi spoke to Arab News about the importance of the race, which he said was demonstrating the “leadership” of the nation’s sports sector.
“His Highness Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal leads the sector and has an integrated strategy (developed). This strategy aims to increase the percentage of sports practice, improve the performance of elite athletes, and discover talent. This event aims to discover talent and diversify sports, including cycling.”
Many eyes will be on the Kingdom’s national team, and the athletes have been encouraged to embrace the experience.
Haider Al-Essa, head of the SACF delegation, said: “We assembled the Saudi squad and advised them to enjoy themselves, let go of any tension, and join the tournament in good spirits. We noted that simply competing against top-tier international cyclists was an enormous accomplishment.”