IN GEOLOGICAL WONDERLAND
January 9 th 2023 - 14:53 [GMT + 3]
- The third edition of the Saudi Tour, a 2.1 stage race on the UCI calendar sanctioned by the Saudi Arabia Cycling Federation, will feature five stages, suitable for sprinters, explosive riders and climbers, from January 30 to February 3rd.
- The route, located in the north-west of the country around the wonders of AlUla, returns to the Skyviews of Harrat Uwayrid and showcases other World Heritage Sites recently designated by UNESCO.
For the second year running, the Saudi Tour, of which this is the third edition after a successful launch in 2020, is concentrated in the region of AlUla, an increasingly popular tourist destination in Saudi Arabia strongly linked to cycling. In 2022, the peloton rode through Hegra – the first place in Saudi Arabia designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site (in 2008) – on a 7.5km stretch of an eight meters wide graveled road, just before Caleb Ewan’s win at Winter Park.
Early season races in the Middle East (since the turn of the 21st century) have built a reputation for themselves as a sprinter’s paradise. In fact, Dylan Groenewegen won the other two flat stages last year, but the Saudi Tour showed that in five days, all types of cyclists could find a way to express themselves. The event therefore returns to the Skyviews of Harrat Uwayrid, where Maxim Van Gils had sealed his final victory. The final consists of a 2,8km long ascent at 12% with a section at 22% preceding 7km on a plateau offering a lunar landscape. This steep route led to a wonderful fight where the 2022 Giro stage Winner, Santiago Buitrago was beautifully trapped by the young Belgian.
At the end of stage 3, the 2023 Saudi Tour also returns to Abu Rakah where the Colombian from Bahrain Victorious had preceded Andrea Bagioli. “But it is not the same finale, the approach to this one is less steep”, warns technical director Jean-Marc Marino. The new course features a 1.5km slope at an average of 8.5% followed by a flat kilometer to finish. It’s a puncher’s affair.
Once the difficulties on the route were established, the course designers could then focus on showcasing the local sceneries: “the general desire is to highlight all the sites of the AlUla region designated by UNESCO”, Marino informs. It is also an archaeological site that has been inhabited for over 200,000 years. Listed as a World Heritage Site since the end of 2022, it features rock formations resembling kites.
The old Al Manshiyah train station, refurbished and recently reopened to the public, also listed as “Heritage Site”, will host the start of stage 3 while Maraya, on the program for the last two days, represents the other novelty of the route. Its concert hall, a masterpiece of engineering amidst sandstone cliffs, is recognized as the world’s largest building covered with mirrors. It will mark the finishing point of this third Saudi Tour, on a newly asphalted road with the last 500 meters at an average gradient of 6%. After the sprinters, the punchy climbers, the climbers and possibly the echelons’ experts if the wind is part of the game, a punchy sprinter should have the last word on this final stage.
The stages of the 2023 Saudi Tour:
Stage 1, Monday, January 30th: AlUla International Airport - Khaybar, 180,5km
Stage 2, Tuesday, January 31st: Winter Park – Shalal Sijlyat Rocks, 184 km
Stage 3, Wednesday, February 1st: Al Manshiyah Train Station - Abu Rakah, 159,2 km
Stage 4, Thursday, February 2nd: Maraya - Skyviews of Harrat Uwayrid, 163,4 km
Stage 5, Friday, February 3rd: AlUla Old Town - Maraya, 142,9 km
The 16 teams selected
7 UCI WorldTeams
Astana Qazaqstan Team (Kaz)
Bahrain Victorious (Brn)
Movistar Team (Esp)
Team Jayco AlUla (Aus)
Team DSM (Ned)
UAE Team Emirates (Uae)
6 UCI ProTeams
Bingoal WB (Bel)
Euskaltel – Euskadi (Esp)
Human Powered Health (Usa)
Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team (Sui)
Uno-X Pro Cycling Team (Nor)
Team Corratec (Ita)
With these 13 teams, 3 more are selected
Saudi Arabian Cycling Federation (Sau)
Terengganu Polygon Cycling Team (Mas)
JCL Team Ukyo (Jap)