It is very strange being right in the middle of a marketing stunt. Everything looks real but at the same time kind of isn’t. This was my experience of the Giro d’Italia Criterium in Dubai. It was held at the World Expo in Dubai, which is a kind of Disneyland where instead of rides there are reasonably prosaic buildings built to represent different countries, called pavilions. Think, the Great Exhibition of 1851 but in a desert and a lot bigger, not in Crystal Palace. As part of the Italian offering, the most Italian of things was called upon: not the ‘ Ndrangheta, not pizza nor pasta, not even Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma. No, La Corsa Rosa itself was shipped out to the Middle East to show off the best of Italy. An exhibition race was put on, which included the jersey holders of this year’s Giro - Egan Bernal, Peter Sagan and Geoffrey Bouchard - and other stars of the peloton including Filippo Ganna and Elia Viviani.

Also on the menu was a gala dinner, a press conference where only one question was asked, and a chance for fans - the few there were at the Expo in Dubai on a Friday evening - to meet Bernal, Sagan, Viviani and Ganna.

It was all a show. An opportunit­y for Giro organisers RCS to show their commitment to the UAE and the Dubai Sports Council (RCS also run the UAE Tour). It was also a chance for the Italian Trade Agency - ICE - to grease some palms and connect businesses in Italy and the UAE. This is not necessaril­y a bad thing, cycling relies on relationsh­ips with business and enterprise to keep the whole sport spinning. It was just very strange to see it in action, to witness the hobnobbing in person.

A fake race, won in a fake sprint by Sagan, was the culminatio­n of the weekend. The three-time world champion was asked more about the Expo than the race itself in the ensuing press conference, which was a bit of a struggle. It was a success for all involved, and the world of cycling moves on to more important things.

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