Saudi Tour cycling event rebranded as AlUla Tour for 2024 return

The Saudi Tour cycling event has been rebranded as the AlUla Tour for its return in early 2024, it was announced on Monday. (Supplied)
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The Saudi Tour cycling event has been rebranded as the AlUla Tour for its return in early 2024, it was announced on Monday. (Supplied)
The Saudi Tour cycling event has been rebranded as the AlUla Tour for its return in early 2024, it was announced on Monday. (Supplied)
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The Saudi Tour cycling event has been rebranded as the AlUla Tour for its return in early 2024, it was announced on Monday. (Supplied)
The Saudi Tour cycling event has been rebranded as the AlUla Tour for its return in early 2024, it was announced on Monday. (Supplied)
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The Saudi Tour cycling event has been rebranded as the AlUla Tour for its return in early 2024, it was announced on Monday. (Supplied)
The Saudi Tour cycling event has been rebranded as the AlUla Tour for its return in early 2024, it was announced on Monday. (Supplied)
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The Saudi Tour cycling event has been rebranded as the AlUla Tour for its return in early 2024, it was announced on Monday. (Supplied)
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Updated 20 November 2023
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Saudi Tour cycling event rebranded as AlUla Tour for 2024 return

Saudi Tour cycling event rebranded as AlUla Tour for 2024 return

LONDON: The Saudi Tour cycling event has been rebranded as the AlUla Tour for its return in early 2024, it was announced on Monday.

It will be organized by the Ministry of Sport and the Royal Commission for AlUla, in cooperation with the Saudi Cycling Federation and the International Cycling Union.

The biggest cycling competition in Saudi Arabia is now in its fourth year and will be run from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3, welcoming 119 cyclists from 17 teams, including from the UCI World Tour and Continental Tour.

The confirmed lineup of teams, riders and stages will be announced at the end of this year.

The five-stage event is part of the UCI Asia Tour and a category 2.1 event.

Abdullah bin Ali Al-Wathlan, chairman of the Saudi Cycling Federation and vice chairman of the Arab Cycling Federation, said: “The AlUla Tour has emerged as a major local, regional and international event in recent years. We look forward to welcoming the sport’s best cyclists in one of the sport’s most unique locations, showcased to the world.

“The AlUla Tour, alongside our global cycling partners, is creating a legacy in this country with more and more people getting access to a sustainable sport that is inspiring people to move, be active and healthy.”

The Royal Commission for AlUla has announced two mass participation rides alongside the AlUla Tour for juniors and the wider public.

The RCU has also created environmentally friendly initiatives through local bike tracks, hubs, desert biking tours, mountain biking options and electric bikes at Hegra.

Phillip Jones, RCU’s chief tourism officer, said: “The new AlUla Tour promises to take cycling to another level this year.

“Welcoming the sport’s elite talent and teams on the UCI Asia Tour across five challenging stages showcases the best of AlUla as a sporting destination. We are just about to open our brand new 45 km bike track for road cyclists, which is set to be one of most stunning dedicated cycling routes in the world.

“We really believe AlUla has the potential to become the cycling capital of Saudi Arabia as we create more opportunities for people to watch, be inspired and ride with one of the country’s fastest growing sports.”

The AlUla Tour is one of the sports events on this season’s AlUla Moments calendar that also includes the AlUla Trail Race (Jan. 11-12); Richard Mille AlUla Desert Polo (Jan. 17-20); and February’s Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup.


Saudi-born record breaker set to tackle Tough Mudder Infinity in AlUla

Saudi-born record breaker set to tackle Tough Mudder Infinity in AlUla
Updated 21 February 2024
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Saudi-born record breaker set to tackle Tough Mudder Infinity in AlUla

Saudi-born record breaker set to tackle Tough Mudder Infinity in AlUla
  • Nelly Attar became the first Arab woman to scale K2, having already reached the pinnacles of Everest, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya

When it comes to completing significant sporting challenges, Nelly Attar has achieved more than most.

In 2022, the Saudi Arabia-born Lebanese climber became the first Arab woman to scale K2, widely regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous mountains, having already completed her ascent to the pinnacle of Everest, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, to name just a few.

This weekend, Attar takes on a different kind of challenge as one of the participants in Tough Mudder Infinity, an eight-hour endurance race in AlUla, located in the northwest of the Kingdom.

While the race is the first of its kind in the region, and one which promises to test both the physical and mental capabilities of those taking part, Attar has her own way of approaching the task at hand.

“The way I’m going into this is by thinking of it as a summit, because when we climb, our summit days are very long,” she said.

“You use every part of your body and it takes everything out of you, so yes, I want to pace myself in order to stay strong throughout, but I’m also trying to see it as a summit day in the sense it’s going to be long and it requires a lot of teamwork.

“When I read that Tough Mudder Infinity is one of the most challenging races in the Middle East, I wanted to get involved because I thought it sounded interesting and exciting.

“I love obstacle-course challenges. I’m quite a dynamic athlete. I do a bit of everything; I run, I climb, I do calisthenics, so obstacle-course races are like my playground.”

There is no doubt Attar is well-placed to overcome the toughest of challenges given her previous experiences.

Having scaled Mount Kenya in 2007, she went on to climb Kilimanjaro twice, Elbrus, Mount Stanley and Mount Speke, before ascending Everest in 2016.

Attar then entered the history books when she became the first Arab female to climb K2 two years ago, an achievement she understandably reflects on with huge pride, particularly given the difficulties she faced.

“K2 is one of the most dangerous mountains in the world,” she said. “Situated in Pakistan, it’s the second-highest peak in the world. The idea came into my mind as I was descending Everest, but I needed a couple more years of climbing and technical experience before I could attempt it.

“I was going through a really hard period in my life. I had lost my father, which is what inspired me to take on the challenge because he was the reason I started climbing. The training was very difficult, I was doing 30 hours a week at times, and it was a very different environment compared to the desert and heat.

“The climb itself was one of the best experiences I’ve gone through, but it was very challenging. It was really scary. You have to watch out for rockfall, because that can kill you, and then there are avalanches. Storms can break out at any second and the terrain is very exposed, so you have to be careful with your steps.

“You’re continuously changing between snow and rock for a month-and-a-half, so it felt like a very prolonged Tough Mudder at altitude, but the experience was everything I hoped for and more, which was amazing. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way to make it happen.”

Having successfully taken on some of the most difficult mountain climbs in the world, and ahead of Tough Mudder Infinity, Attar provides some insight into her mindset ahead of such challenges.

“Just like you train your body, you have to train your mind,” she said. “There are so many times when I don’t want to train, or I’m super tired and I want to give up, but overcoming those difficulties 80 percent of the time really helps you build that mental strength, perseverance and mindset.”

“It took me many years to be able to do K2, not just physically but mentally,” Attar added. “You need to develop the endurance to face these challenges and the uncertainty on the mountains. I love sport because of what it does for me physically, but also mentally.”

Switching attention back to her impending Tough Mudder Infinity challenge in AlUla this coming Saturday, Attar will be competing in a team of four, which she admits will be a welcome change for many reasons.

“I think it will be more enjoyable because my success is their success, and their success is my success. It’s nice to have to share tasks between each other, think creatively and put a strategy in place.

“AlUla is insanely beautiful and to be outside for so long, competing with my friends, is very exciting. Many of my friends have never been to AlUla, it’s so scenic which I think will keep us going.”

The event is further indication of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to sport and hosting largescale events.

Attar, who was born in Riyadh, expects to see the current trend continue long-term.

“A couple of years ago, I don’t think people would have travelled to Saudi for sport, but that narrative and perspective is changing,” she said.

“I never thought I would be travelling to Saudi with my friends from abroad to compete in a race. It’s so amazing and it’s happened in a short space of time. It goes to show where Saudi is putting its efforts and how seriously Saudi is when it comes to sport. This is just the start.”

Tough Mudder Infinity AlUla takes place on Saturday Feb. 24.


Olivia Moultrie scores twice and the US women rout Dominican Republic 5-0

Olivia Moultrie scores twice and the US women rout Dominican Republic 5-0
Updated 21 February 2024
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Olivia Moultrie scores twice and the US women rout Dominican Republic 5-0

Olivia Moultrie scores twice and the US women rout Dominican Republic 5-0
  • It was the sixth victory for the US under interim coach Twila Kilgore
  • Argentina and Mexico played to a scoreless draw to open Group A play

CARSON, California: Olivia Moultrie scored twice in her first national team start and the US defeated the Dominican Republic 5-0 on Tuesday night in the inaugural CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup tournament.

Moultrie, 18, making just her third appearance with the national team, scored her first goal in the seventh minute when she stretched to tap the ball across the goal line.

Lynn Williams added a goal off a pass from Midge Purce in the 30th minute to make it 2-0 in the US team’s first game of the year.

Purce also fed Moultrie for her second goal in the 59th minute. Moultrie, who plays for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League, is the third-youngest player to score multiple goals in a game for the US.

“I’m pretty ecstatic right now. I was just so happy to be on the field tonight, to have the opportunity to start is amazing,” Moultrie said.

Jenna Nighswonger scored her first goal for the US on a penalty in the 86th minute to make it 4-0.

Alex Morgan, who was brought into the team earlier Tuesday, came in as a second-half substitute. Morgan was a roster replacement for Mia Fishel, who tore a ligament in her right knee in practice a day earlier.

Morgan, who normally wears No. 13, wore Fishel’s No. 7 because of CONCACAF rules.

Morgan converted a penalty kick in stoppage time to wrap up scoring. It was her 122nd international goal.

It was the sixth victory for the US under interim coach Twila Kilgore, who took over when coach Vlatko Andonovski departed the team following the Americans’ disappointing finish at the Women’s World Cup last summer.

Kilgore will coach the US until May, when Emma Hayes, currently coach of Chelsea, takes over. Purce said Kilgore did a good job of making sure everyone was on the same page.

“I think that we’re playing against a low block so it gives us an opportunity for a lot of creativity,” Purce said. “And we have a lot of creative players on the front line. So it really fun. It was a fun day.”

Korbin Albert, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, also made her first start.

Veteran defender Becky Sauerbrunn, the captain for the match, was also a late addition to the roster because Alana Cook sustained a minor knee injury. It was Sauerbrunn’s 216th cap.

The Dominican Republic clinched a spot in Group A with a 1-0 victory over Guyana on Saturday. Kathrynn González scored the lone goal early in the second half.

Gonzalez, a Pennsylvania native, came in as a second-half substitute against the US.

Earlier Tuesday at Dignity Health Sports Park, home to Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy, Argentina and Mexico played to a scoreless draw to open Group A play.

There are three groups of four teams in the tournament, with matches in Carson, San Diego and Houston.

The US play Argentina on Friday night in Carson.


Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships
Updated 21 February 2024
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Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships

Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships
  • Swiatek advances, Sabalenka crashes out on eventful day at Dubai Tennis Championships
  • US Open champion Coco Gauff produces powerful display to beat Elisabetta Cocciaretto and make it 7 of the top 10 in the last 16

DUBAI: World No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 3 Coco Gauff are safely into the last 16 of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after safely navigating potentially tricky challenges on Dubai Tennis Stadium’s center court on Monday evening.

Former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina also progressed from the round of 32 after her opponent, two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka, was forced to retire before the third set due to injury.

With No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka sent tumbling earlier in the day, Swiatek would have been eager to avoid a similar fate against experienced American Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion. And the top seed delivered, coming through a tactical battle to see off Stephens 6-4, 6-4 and set up a clash with Elina Svitolina, the winner of this tournament in 2017 and 2018.

Gauff, meanwhile, faced a different challenge against Dubai debutant Elisabetta Cocciaretto, but looked confident to seal a straight sets victory 6-1, 7-5 in just over an hour and 40 minutes.

Swiatek did not have it all her own way against Stephens, who secured an early break of serve to take a 2-1 lead. An unforced error on break point on her own serve in the very next game restored parity but the experienced American atoned for her mistake straight away, taking on the Swiatek serve to record a double break with some aggressive tennis. The pair proceeded to trade breaks in games six through eight.

But Swiatek started to show why she is the world’s top-ranked player, holding serve and taking out Stephens’ serve for a fourth time to seal the first set.

With both players seemingly still trying to work each other out, the second set got off to a cagey start. Swiatek, fresh off victory in Doha last week, held serve to take the opening game. Yet Stephens refused to be outgunned by a player ranked 40 places above her in the opening exchanges and held firm to take the set to 4-4.

After holding serve in game nine, the 2023 Dubai finalist Swiatek turned up the power in Stephens’ next service game to take the victory and move into the last 16, where she will face 15th seed Svitolina.

After safely securing her passage through, the Polish ace is hoping to at least match her performance in Dubai last year.

“I knew after last year’s experience I could adjust (coming to Dubai straight from Qatar) and be able to do it. No doubt Sloane played really well, and it was a very interesting match,” said Swiatek.

“I was putting a lot of power in my shots, but she was coping really well, so I had to focus more on tactics and I’m happy that I got through. I’m just going to keep trying to play my best this week.”

Third seed Gauff joins Swiatek in the next round after producing a powerful performance to see off Italy’s Cocciaretto.

Gauff, a semifinalist here last year, raced into a two-game lead in Monday’s final match on center court. Cocciaretto broke back in game three, but Gauff, the reigning US Open champion powered through the next four games to take the opening set.

In the second set, Gauff broke her opponent’s serve in consecutive games to race into a 3-0 lead. But Cocciaretto was in no mood to be rolled over and hit back with three breaks of her own to level the set at 3-3 and then 4-4.

That seemed to be the wake-up call the US Open champion needed and she broke serve again to take a 5-4 lead. Despite an immediate response, Gauff stood firm to see out the next two games to seal victory.

“I was playing well and I was close to making it 4-0 (in the second set) and I just lost focus. She also started to be a bit more consistent and aggressive. It was a tough match but it’s in the past now and we just keep moving forward,” said a relieved Gauff.

Gauff’s opponent in the next round is Karolina Pliskova, a beaten finalist in Dubai in 2015, who recovered from losing a first set tie-break to register a 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory over American Ashlyn Krueger.

Elsewhere, No. 6 seed Qinwen Zheng survived a scare, battling back from a set down to beat Japanese qualifier Nao Hibino 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 to book her place in the last 16.


Hattan Alsaif looking to inspire Saudi females in world of MMA after joining PFL

Hattan Alsaif looking to inspire Saudi females in world of MMA after joining PFL
Updated 21 February 2024
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Hattan Alsaif looking to inspire Saudi females in world of MMA after joining PFL

Hattan Alsaif looking to inspire Saudi females in world of MMA after joining PFL
  • The Riyadh resident recently became the first female athlete from the Middle East to join the Professional Fighters League

The latest Saudi Arabian addition to the Professional Fighters League is a history maker. On Jan. 30, Hattan Alsaif became the first female mixed martial arts fighter from the Kingdom and the Middle East to join the sport’s fastest-growing brand.

“It feels so awesome, so exciting,” she said. “But it’s also not easy. You can say it’s a heavy (burden) that I’m carrying because I’m the first Saudi female to sign with the PFL, and maybe even the first female from the Middle East. So all the eyes are going to be on me, I have to represent my country and I have to represent all Arabs. But I’m also sure I’m good enough to represent them.”

The 22-year-old Riyadh resident took gold at the 2023 International Federation of Muay Thai Associations World Championships, an event in which she was honored with the “Breakthrough Female Athlete” award. And she followed that up with first-place finishes at the World Combat Games and the Saudi Games.

It is a lot to squeeze into career that only began in September 2021, when she first took up Muay Thai seriously. Joining the PFL has now brought her to a worldwide audience.

“For sure. PFL is a very big platform, it’s not easy to get there,” Alsaif said. “Some huge names are fighting there and this is what gets me more excited. I know myself, and I believe in myself and I believe that God would never put me there if I was not good enough. No, God has his plan, he got me there because he has a plan for me.”

She added: “I also believe in my coach, before I ever do anything or sign any contract, I always go to my coach and ask ‘do you believe that I’m good enough or ready enough?’ Only the coaches can see if their champs are really ready or not. So I went to my coach and asked ‘do you think I’m ready enough to be with PFL?’ And he said ‘Yeah, you are ready.’”

Alsaif trains with Feras Sadaa, coach of the Saudi Muay Thai national team, at Fight Club in Riyadh. She also works closely with one of Saudi Arabia’s two fighters currently participating in the PFL.

“I’m on (Saudi PFL fighter) Abdullah Al-Qahtani’s team, so I’m a member of his family,” she said.

Added support comes from the Saudi Arabian Mixed Martial Arts Federation, established in 2019.

“Mixed martial arts, even the combat sports are all very new in Saudi Arabia. We can say that only two years it started. It’s a very big thing, but it’s also new, no one knew about it, it was hard to get support,” she said. “But you can see the Ministry of Sport are trying their best to support the women and the men. And even the federations of other types of sports, they are trying their best, they are introducing championships. So everything is growing step by step.”

Alsaif is expected to make her PFL bow sometime in 2024, but says for now she is keeping her plans a “surprise.” Mostly she is looking to adding success inside the MMA cage to her impressive Muay Thai resume.

“Next for me is to have victories, always,” she said. “I always say that I don’t have any just one thing that I’ve got my eyes on. No, I see my life as a path that I’m walking through. And every day, or every year or every month, something new will jump on my path and I will take it. A medal, a belt, or whatever it is. I just want to take everything before I go away from this life.”

Alsaif says she “would love to” become a role model for Saudi Arabia’s females looking to get into MMA or other sports.

“Even before I started combat sports, I wanted to be someone that can inspire other people, can help other people,” she said. “I would do my best to inspire any other people.”


Asian Tour begins its International Series with a strong LIV contingent

Asian Tour begins its International Series with a strong LIV contingent
Updated 21 February 2024
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Asian Tour begins its International Series with a strong LIV contingent

Asian Tour begins its International Series with a strong LIV contingent
  • The series is funded by LIV Golf and features a $2 million purse, and this one comes a week before LIV goes to Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong
  • Some LIV players are under contract to play in occasional International Series events

LOS ANGELES: Joaquin Niemann, Matthew Wolff and Louis Oosthuizen will give the Asian Tour field in Oman a familiar look. Missing will be the uniforms and team scores.

They are among 21 players from Saudi-funded LIV Golf who are playing the first International Series events on the Asian Tour. The series is funded by LIV Golf and features a $2 million purse, and this one comes a week before LIV goes to Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong.

Some LIV players are under contract to play in occasional International Series events. For others, it’s a rare chance to earn world ranking points. The Official World Golf Ranking doesn’t award points to the league that has the same 53 players for the entire season (13 four-man teams and Hudson Swafford as a singles player).

It’s still not enough to get any of them — particularly Lucas Herbert (No. 80) or Niemann (No. 81) — into the top 50 for the Masters. But the PGA Championship has a history of trying to get as many from the top 100 in the world ranking.

As for the other majors, David Puig earned a spot in the British Open last week when he won the Malaysian Open, part of the International Final Qualifying series. He is the third player to qualify for Royal Troon this summer through the series, following Niemann (Australian Open) and Dean Burmester (Joburg Open).

Puig and Sam Horsfield were the only players in Malaysia. Puig also is in Oman this week, meaning four straight weeks of playing. That’s not unusual for players on any circuit, so it raises questions about why more LIV golfers did not seize on the opportunity. That was their best option for those who are not European tour members. Otherwise, it’s final qualifying in the United Kingdom on July 2.

The US Open typically takes the top 60 in the world toward the end of May, and that will make the Masters and PGA Championship critical for Adrian Meronk (No. 49 and falling), along with Niemann and Burmester, along with however they fare in Oman.

RETURN OF CABRERA

The 78-man field at PGA Tour Champions event doesn’t change much from tournament to tournament, though one name stood out for the Trophy Hassan II this week in Morocco. Angel Cabrera plays for the first time since getting released from prison.

Cabrera was imprisoned for two years for threats and harassment of his partner, a case that was joined by another former partner. He was released on parole in August and has been playing in Argentina.

The PGA Tour notified Cabrera his suspension has been lifted, though he is required to comply with terms of his prison release. The 54-year-old Argentine also is welcome at the Masters as a past champion, provided he can get a visa to travel. That’s been a problem.

Morocco is one of only two PGA Tour Champions events held outside North America. The other is the Senior British Open.

BROADCAST NEWS

It’s safe to say two developments in golf’s TV world span generations.

CBS announced that Verne Lindquist will be at the Masters for the final time in April. Lundquist, 83, has had a long and distinguished career that includes being the radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys and the lead announcer for SEC football.

He is best known for two calls at the Masters. “Yes, sir!” he proclaimed when Jack Nicklaus pulled ahead with a birdie on the 17th hole on his way to winning in 1986. And when Tiger Woods hit that pitch on the 16th green that rolled down the hill and hung on the cup before falling, Lundquist said, “In your life have you seen anything like that?”

Meanwhile, NBC is bringing in a new voice for the Mexico Open at Vidanta. Golfweek reports longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay will be the lead analyst for the final three rounds. He will be the first caddie to serve in that role.

AUGUSTA CHANGES

Augusta National has lengthened the course again — this time by a whopping 10 yards.

The club released its media guide for the 2024 Masters on Monday, and the only change to the course was a tee box on the par-5 second hole that is 10 yards back and to the left.

The hole now plays 585 yards. It ranked as the easiest hole last year, and cumulatively has been ranked the second-easiest hole behind the par-5 13th.

WALK AND TALK

The networks have gone to a “walk and talk” with players on the weekend dating to last year, and Jim Nantz at CBS knew which button to push when he got Mackenzie Hughes of Canada signed up for the chat on Saturday at Riviera.

Hughes delivered one of the most reasoned interviews of the year at Kapalua when he talked about how much golf has emphasized money. He also spoke during Pebble Beach at a private function, which prompted Nantz to ask Hughes to share his views:

“I just think that it’s kind of unfortunate where we are in the game right now, where it seems that it’s just all about the money, it’s all about, ‘How much money can I make?’ Kind of lost the spirit of the game in the process,” Hughes said. “The reason I play the PGA Tour wasn’t because I wanted to make a million dollars. I wanted to compete against the best players in the world, make an impact on the communities that we play. That’s been the dream since I was a kid. It seems that some guys have lost a little sight of that.

“Now we’re in a place where I think fans are just generally a little bit kind of fed up with it, to be honest. Those are the people that drive our sport. So I’d love to appeal to the masses a lot more and certainly the way we’re going right now to me isn’t quite it.”

MONEY MATTERS

The lucrative new PGA Tour already has had three $20 million tournaments and the other four tournaments have had an average purse of $8.6 million.

That translates into 12 players already at $2 million or more before the PGA Tour even gets to the Florida swing, and seven of them haven’t won yet. Through seven tournaments, 30 players already have cleared the $1 million mark.

Twenty-five years ago, only nine players surpassed $2 million for the entire season.