Dutch rider Kirsten Wild won the Ladies Tour of Qatar, the first women’s cycle race to be staged in the Middle East.
“I am very happy to have got this win at the start of the season all the girls helped me to get in the right place and I was able to do enough to win,” said Wild shortly before being presented with the yellow jersey on the podium.
Despite indifference from the public, competitors in the first women’s professional cycling race to be held in the Middle East feel the event marked a milestone in sport.
“I was surprised when I heard this race was going to happen but it’s always a step forward for women’s cycling,” Australian rider Rochelle Gilmore told Reuters as she waited for the start on Sunday.
Though Qatar has hosted a men’s race for the previous eight years this was the first time a women’s race had taken to the streets. Women’s sport is still a thorny issue for many Islamic countries.
The relatively moderate Arab Nation already has its own female volleyball team. Last year Qatar also hosted a major WTA tournament. But other sports, where more revealing clothing is required, are still in a fledgling state. Soccer for girls is still in its infancy and swimmer competitions are not permitted.
To promote women’s equality in sport in Qatar, a number of high profile female tennis players like Billie Jean King and Venus Williams have partnered with UNESCO.
The cycling event kicked-off on Sunday outside Doha’s imposing Museum of Islamic Art. Only about two dozen spectators watched the midday start but the race, which featured seven of the world’s top eight teams, attracted plenty of media coverage, both on television and in local newspapers.
The nearly 90 riders had been warned by race officials to respect local customs and habits and by all accounts the race went smoothly.
“We are very proud of this event, a women’s race for the first time in the Middle East,” said Belgian former champion Eddy Merckx, an advisor to the women’s race which followed last week’s men’s Tour of Qatar.