I’m super lucky that in my day job in Travel, I get the occasional chance to visit new countries and experience the culture. This month, I was invited by the amazing team at Fred. Olsen Cruises to attend as a guest at the ABTA 2016 Conference on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. I was stoked, although for somebody that doesn’t do well in heat, heading to effectively a developed desert was a bit of a worry! It’s a picture heavy blog post with no mountain bikes, but hopefully you’ll enjoy it!
It was an incredible conference and I learned a huge amount about the future of travel, met an amazing group of people and sat a few tables away from Abu Dhabi royalty whilst Ronan Keating sang in the background. We also visited the immense Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is one of the most elegant structures I’ve had the honour to visit, as well as the old town (just 50 years ago, Abu Dhabi was a fishing town with a Bedouin heritage, but they hold over 90% of the UAE’s oil, so money has been flowing over the past half-century, turning it into an economic powerhouse along with Dubai).
Ferrari World was also on the list, with 2 Guinness world record holding rollercoasters on offer; Flying Aces offering the worlds highest loop the loop, and the fastest in the world at 240km/h; Formula Rosso. Holy shit, these were both mental, with all of the people that braved them coming off with massive grins! This was shaping up to be a bucket list adventure, with a few things I can tick off! Here’s a few shots from the trip:
From a cyclists point of view, I saw on the itinerary that there was something called the ‘Yas Marina Circuit Challenge’. I messaged Becky Smith from Fred. Olsen to get on board and she arranged it so I’d be heading to the Formula One track on a roadie to give it a crack with her and Mathew, also from Fred. Olsen. Some others from the conference opted to run the track, but if you know me by now, you know my body wasn’t made for running!
It’s not every day you can cycle around a Formula One track, so I was really excited. We arrived via transfer from the digs for the conference, the stunning 5 star Yas Viceroy hotel and registered. Bear in mind I’ve only tried a road bike once before on a sketchy road in Reading, full of potholes, so there was trepidation! We picked up the bikes and got them adjusted to fit, then headed down to the track on a slow lap to take it in (and for me, to get used to being on skinny wheels).
Stopping to take some photos, none of us could quite believe where we were, or what we were doing. The whole experience was so surreal, especially knowing the greatest track drivers of the world will be driving this circuit at the end of November!
The Yas Marina Circuit is 5.5km in total, with some tight hairpin bends and insane straight runs, although going between 25-28mph is a little different to 200+mph!
Becky got 2 laps in, whilst sportive competitor Mathew and I put the power down and managed a further 2 1/2 laps at speed. Totalling 27km in intense heat, I was sweatier than I’d ever been, but ended the experience feeling so lucky to have had a go! Becky was waiting for us at the end with Calippos, which were hugely needed!
I ended up 11th fastest on the day with a full lap time of 9:39 and sitting (as I type this) 946th overall, which, for a mountain biker in baggies on a rented bike with shitty gear ratios, I was pretty stoked about! I tracked the ride via Relive.cc, which you can see here.
I never thought I’d enjoy being on a road bike so much, but don’t fear; I’ll be sticking to the trails in the woods, as riding on smooth race track is a world away from potholed roads filled with glass shards and cars! All in all, this was something I’ll never forget and will probably never get to do again, so I had to share it here with you lovely lot. Here’s a few more shots of the ride:
The final night was spent in great company at the ultra luxury Saadiyat Beach Club, where we chilled by the beach, drinking, eating and reminiscing on what had been a truly special work trip, filled with amazing excursions.
Finally, I have to say a massive thank you to all of the team at Fred. Olsen Cruises for having me along, especially to Becky for organising everything perfectly and to Mathew for being a great riding partner! Also big thanks to Aly from Saga for being great company and hopefully I’ll see you shredding Peaslake soon! Final thanks to the Yas Viceroy, the Marina Circuit staff and to the people of Abu Dhabi for being so amazingly welcoming. As small thanks back to Abu Dhabi, I purchased a Kandura; the traditional dress for men in the UAE. With the beard, I may have fitted in a little too well!
My Aeris is currently off the road awaiting new forks, but I’ll be doing some hideously muddy rides over the Surrey Hills and Swinley in no time, so normal service will be resumed shortly!
Until next time, cheers!
Ian @ Stealth Riders