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AL ADAID DESERT CHALLENGE 2020 IS THE LONGEST, TOUGHEST AND LARGEST TO DATE
EXCEPTIONAL PERFORMANCES FROM FREDERIC GOMBERT (FRA), PIA SUNDSTEDT (FIN) & AXEL DOPFER (GER)
EVENT DECIDES QATAR NATIONAL CHAMPION – ABDULLA AL KHATER
Qatar’s premier off-road endurance event, the Al Adaid Desert Challenge topped last year’s record participation with 615 athletes from 51 different nationalities taking part in mountain bike and desert running races across Khor Al Adaid, one of Qatar’s most beautiful natural areas.
The turnout this year has exceeded all expectations, a sell-out race despite creating additional capacity, most notably in extra logistics support from Doha Bus and expanded facilities at the Al Majles desert resort which was used for the finish zone for the first time.
The growth came despite a number of overseas competitors falling foul of travel restrictions imposed as a result of the Corona Virus epidemic. Regardless, the rapid increase in mountain cycling popularity in Qatar and, most notably, the strong local interest in endurance sports in general, more than compensated for the loss although the UCI Elite competition was poorer without the regular international names such as Iranian, Faraz Shokri who took second place last year. More than 300 participants took part in the cycling race, among them, tourists who travelled from countries like Great Britain, France, Australia, Ireland, Croatia and the USA especially to take part in the event.
The event is organized by Qatar Cyclists in cooperation with the Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC)
and the support of the ministry of Culture and Sports and Qatar Cycling Federation, in addition to a
list of sponsors that include gold sponsors Doha Insurance Group, Ooredoo, Doha Takaful, and
official supporters Rayyan Mineral Water, GMC, Rasen Sports, Doha Bus, Garmin Lingawi, Mawater
Qatar, Royal Riviera Hotel Doha, Qatar Red Crescent, Dama Sports Wear, Royal Riviera Hotel.
The Elite category of the cycling race in Al Adaid is recognized by the International Cycling Union (UCI) as a category 3 XCP race and it offers the highest prize money in the world in its class. The total purse across all disciplines – cycling, running and duathlon – totalled QAR 216,000.
Frederic Gombert of France made back to back victory. His light build proving a definite advantage over that of larger, stronger riders on the soft sand. This year’s extended course included more of that than ever as it followed the 40.5 km route – which included the tough task of crossing ten sand dunes on the way to the finish line. Gombert’s time of 1:42:17, was eight minutes slower than last year despite more favourable weather conditions. With Shokri already out of contention, it was Gregor Sikosek (Slovenia) who came closest to challenging the Frenchman, some four and a half minutes adrift. Eight minutes later, Szymon Wasiak (Poland) crossed the line for third place, exhausted by his effort. Gombert observed, “The race was harder this year, but I have adapted well and the experience I have gained over the past years made the difference today.” Reflecting on its position as an international race, he said, “I am always keen on taking part in this challenge to enjoy the good weather in Qatar during this time of the year compared to Europe, I am getting ready for some tough races in France this season and I like to explore different countries while taking part in races around the world. Khor Al Adaid is an area with a unique nature. I also like the fact that race allows me to compete against cyclists from many different nationalities, plus of course the prize money this year, which was good.”
One of the most notable performances of the day was from two-time Olympian, Pia Sundstedt. Although this was her fifth completion and fifth win, it is surely ranked among the best with a result which placed her fourth overall – just 30 seconds off stealing a podium position from the men.
Pia describes herself as a sand specialist, “I just let the bike find its way and I find that balance being able to stay on the bike even when you think you will fall. It’s a special technique that I learned already as a child.” Sophie Giovane, travelling from southern France also found an improvement in form this year, holding off Isora Sosa (Spain) for the silver medal.
Al Adaid incorporates the Qatar National Mountain Bike Championship. This year the riders occupying all three podium spots had stepped up to the UCI Elite category. A new generation of riders racing at this level being a positive indication of the development of elite cycling in Qatar. Abdulla Al Khater pulled on the National Champion Jersey after two hours and 9 minutes of riding. He beat the title holder, Marwan Al Jalham, who had found himself losing the lead group after some problems at the start. Fadhel Al Khater took bronze. In all, 168 Qatari nationals completed the challenge this year. An increase on last year and a reflection of the strong and developing interest in cycling and endurance sport. Endurance didn’t come much greater than the effort of Ahmed Shahrani, last placed in 7:05:22. Ahmed becomes the first wheelchair athlete to complete the challenge.
In his first year of bike racing, 18 year old Axel Dopfer (Germany) decisively led the Open classification with a performance which would have placed him 5th UCI Elite. By his own admission, Dopfer went into the race with some trepidation as the sand is not his natural territory. He said, “I knew it was going to be a tough day in the saddle as I usually stick to the road bike. While it was indeed tough, I can say with confidence that it was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding races I have ever done”. Asked how he coped as a sand novice, he commented “The whole group rode full gas into the first sand and a good number wiped out. I was lucky to avoid that! I lost quite a bit of ground on the ridable sand but I was able to close the gaps on the hard ground and my running background really helped me on the dunes.” Mouchcine Rhaili (Morocco), who has dominated much of the road racing this year, settled for third place on this occasion, 90 seconds further back. Spaniard, Carla Pregigueiro was ladies winner in 2:53:20, beating Sondra Hope and Charlotte Wohlwend (Switzerland).
The North Africans again dominated the desert run. Abderrahim Ghayour taking the win for the second year in a row, impressively adding only a minute to his time over the longer course. Countryman Houssine Lahdou was third but the Moroccans didn’t have the entire podium to themselves – Mohcine Zaytouni, representing Qatar, occupied the silver spot. Back to Morocco for the Women’s champion though with Zineb Karam beating two brits; Daisy Baker and Sophie Clarke.
New for 2020’s Al Adaid was the additional challenge of an 8km run immediately following the bike in the duathlon category. Elite off-road triathlon specialist Mehdi Mersni put in a bike performance which would have placed him highly in the MTB competition and continued with a blistering run, only to find he had been misdirected. In two of the most impressive displays of sportsmanship of the event, Mersni proceeded to chase back to within 90 seconds of Jan Woutters (Netherlands) who conceded the win in recognition of a performance which he felt deserved first place.
The three leaders of the Women’s duathlon were all in the veteran class: Andrea Stadler (Ecuador), Daniela Sposi (GBR) and Govida Dellomas (Philippines) all beating their younger rivals.
Dr. Jamal Rashed Al Khanji, Managing Director of Al Adaid Desert Challenge commented “The success achieved by Al Adaid Desert Challenge today exceeded all expectations. We thank all the sponsors and supporters of this event, without them it would have not been possible to achieve all this. The event broke all records this year in terms of the number of participants and international cyclists, in addition to the total prize money. The popularity of cycling in Qatar is rapidly increasing, thanks to support of our wise leadership.
“We are planning to expand Al Adaid Desert Challenge next year, to move it to a higher UCI category, maybe by making it a three-day event or perhaps turning the duathlon into a very unique triathlon, which will attract more international athletes to come to Qatar to participate in the race and enjoy this unique adventure in one of the most beautiful natural areas in the world,” he added.
Mr. Andre Filip, Event Manager commented: “We are very pleased that we were able to organize another wonderful edition of Al Adaid Desert Challenge. Our top priority was ensuring the safety of all the participants and we successfully achieved this. Everyone enjoyed the different races offered by the event and we received a positive feedback from UCI official who was here to monitor the event. It is a great step forward for the future of this event on international level.”