DOHA, Feb 10, 2009 (AFP) – The Tour of Qatar has won its place in the international cycling calendar and it could one day host a Tour de France stage, Belgian great Eddy Merckx believes.
This year’s race, won last week by Belgian powerhouse Tom Boonen, was the eighth edition of an event which has seen competitive cycling come to the Gulf for the first time.
The 64-year-old Merckx, who many see as the greatest cyclist ever, is convinced that it has gained in strength during that time.
“The signs are there – more and more teams want to take part,” he said.
“It says something that a champion like Boonen comes each year. He can cover the maximum of kilometres at a decent pace and in ideal climatic conditions.
“When I see the winter weather that has hit France at this time of year, I can only deduce that cyclists are better off here.
“As for the Tour of California (starts Saturday) it’s far too demanding at the start of a season with too many climbs. It makes no sense in February.”
Merckx, who said that seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong had indicated he could take part in next year’s Tour of Qatar, said that tests would be held to ascertain whether a Tour de France stage could be held around Doha.
“The Tour in Qatar – It’s not for tomorrow, but you can’t count it out,” he said. “Nothing is impossible. Doha is only a four or five hours flight from Nice.”
Merckx also expressed his admiration for British sprinter Mark Cavendish who chalked up two stage wins in Qatar.
“He really is impressive,” he said. “The way he sprints is quite phenomenal – and he is only 23 years old.”