Cycling for charity

September 12, 2019

The 12th edition of Road to Awareness will come to Oman on November 22 with 37 cyclists of 15 nationalities. The three-day challenge will see the amateur cyclists cover 447km climbing 6,000m to raise funds for Dar al Atta’a and 13 other children’s charities in the Middle East and Africa. The cycling event will contribute towards Road to Awareness’ (R2A) goal to raise US$1mn in 2019. Since its inception in 2008, over US$10mn have been raised through R2A.

An initiative of Marriott International, R2A sees a team of associates from the hospitality major’s offices and properties raising funds for children every year. Besides committing to the gruelling cycle challenge, each of the 37 cyclists will also raise a minimum of US$1,500 for local charities. Following editions held in France, Germany and Italy, R2A debuted in Middle East and Africa in 2017 in Jordan. In 2018, Marriott International took R2A to South Africa.

The event in Oman will be led by Guido de Wilde, chief operating officer of Marriott International in the Middle East and founder of R2A, himself. A Belgian national, he’s a passionate cyclist and linguist having taken part in every edition of R2A. de Wilde knows five languages now but at one point he could communicate in seven.

Speaking of why he chose Oman for R2A 2019, de Wilde described the cycling conditions here as being a combination of excellent roads and a representation of the challenge potential Tour de France riders need in their training programme. “It was a given. In 2017, I was already hesitating between Jordan and Oman. The sultanate somewhat has a cycling culture because of Tour of Oman which is highly regarded and well attended. You have top riders every year – future Tour de France winners like Chris Froome come and prepare their season here,” he explained.

Safety, friendly people and comfort of accommodation  - “Hotels here are excellent” – were additional factors in Oman’s favour as the host for R2A. de Wilde knows from experience gathered in the first nine R2As, seven of which were held in France somewhere around the Tour de France route. “That was how we started the initiative. The hotels the cyclists stay there are not necessarily the kind of hotels you and I want to go to,” he said.

According to de Wilde, there’s also an angle of promotion for the country. “We want to give back to the country. We are in Oman as hoteliers for a very long time (Marriott International currently operates  Sheraton, W and Al Bustan Palace) and we have an obligation to promote Oman or the countries we operate in. Cycling is known in Oman, but it wasn’t known in Jordan. By having R2A in Jordan, we’ve also somewhat helped create awareness for it being a country where you could actually do this kind of events.”

For de Wilde, CSR comprises three elements - doing the right thing and providing underprivileged people with a better way to experience the world, going the extra mile to make sure it’s a challenge for yourself, and thirdly, doing it as a team all with one objective – “to make a difference in this world no matter how small it may be as long as you’re doing something to help the people who don’t have the privilege to live the life that we live”.

Focused on children – R2A supports children in two ways – health or education. de Wilde said Dar al Atta’a was chosen for the work it does in Oman which is in line with R2A’s objectives. “We will support it for the work it does in education, especially in providing education to children in remote locations where they don’t have direct access to schools. This fits in perfectly with what we’ve done over the last 11 years.”

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Wishing the cyclists the very best for the challenge in November, Maysa al Hinai, marketing manager of Dar al Atta’a, said, “We appreciate the Marriott group for choosing Dar al Atta’a to be the charity partner of this initiative. This is, however, not the first time. We have a long relationship with the hotel chain in Oman. It has hosted our charity events in the past.”

Besides the highest participation so far, R2A 2019 will also see the most number of female riders – seven. Of the 37 cyclists, de Wilde informed 23 are new riders. “Some of them are starting on a bike, but they’ve now been training for a while. They made a commitment in the beginning of the year to do this and they are training and getting ready.” Two cyclists nominated by Oman Sail, the logistics partner for the event, will join the 37 associates of Marriott International. 

As for who can apply to participate, de Wilde said, “Everybody can apply, but they have to demonstrate what they’re going to do besides raising US$1,500 each. They have to reach out to their family and friends, otherwise it could just be a nice three-day bike ride somewhere – they need to make the effort to raise funds for the initiatives that we support.”  

While encouraging participation, de Wilde makes no bones of the physical demands of the event. “We ride on race bikes and we always ride on very challenging routes. It’s a combination of long distance and climbing. And the reason for that is we want to demonstrate it’s hard. We want to make sure to demonstrate that we have to make an effort to do this.”

Describing the physical demands of the challenge he said, 447km over mountainous terrain is tough even for professional cyclists. “This is something that you need to be prepared for – otherwise you can’t do it.” But as a result of R2A, there are individual cases of lifestyle changes. “There are stories that make me happy and proud that we have got people on a bike and also maybe start living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of their body and nutrition.”

De Wilde’s own preparations include training indoors everyday and outdoors on his bike on the weekend. He trains more intensely three-four weeks before the event. One week before R2A in Oman, he’ll participate in the 205km Coast to Coast – an annual cycling event in the UAE from Sharjah to Al Aqah – on November 15. 

It’ll be an indication of his fitness level. “When you’re on the road cycling 205km, you have good and bad moments. You need to make sure you don’t waste too much energy in the beginning and you pace yourself well,” he said, revealing a strategy that comes only with experience.

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