BEIRUT: A young Lebanese cyclist competed alongside 177 riders from around the globe at the men’s under-23 world championship road race in Norway Friday. Twenty-year-old Roy Roukoz, from Beirut’s Dekwaneh, was the sole Lebanese competitor in the 191-kilometer race in Bergen, Norway, which took place as it poured rain.
Friday’s event was part of the annual Union Cycliste Internationale Road Cycling World Championships, held in a different location each year.
Roukoz, however, did not complete the whole of the grueling course, and had to retire early. Speaking to The Daily Star shortly after the race he said that he was “not ready for such a strong race ... The course was very technical, with lots of climbs and hills.”
Furthermore, he was at a disadvantage compared to many of the competitors, many of whom “race 60 races a year or more.”
“They have contacts with professional teams, professional coaches. I do everything on my own,” he said.
For Lebanese cyclists to be competitive at the highest level, Roukoz suggested that there needs to be further investment in the sport. “We have to have good teams, teams who can have a [support] car, give them training programs with an experienced coach. We don’t have enough races, we must go out more to Europe and do races that are close to our strength.”
However, Roukoz was proud of having taken part and being able to race under the Lebanese flag on the world stage. “It was an amazing experience for me and I’m honored to represent Lebanon in such a huge event. Overall, I’m very happy because I participated and got to race against the best in the world.”
Roukoz said that he is motivated to come back stronger next year, which means further training on top of his already punishing regime. He wakes at 5 a.m. every day in order to train on his bike before attending classes at the Lebanese American University, where he is studying for a degree in business marketing.
Abdo Nader, secretary-general of the Lebanese Cycling Federation, voiced his support for Roukoz, the third Lebanese cyclist to compete in the under-23 world championship road race since 2013.
“We are proud of all these young men,” he said. “We are here to learn ... We are the only Arab country from Asia to qualify for this event.”
Nader suggested that cycling was an excellent way to showcase Lebanon and challenge tired stereotypes of the country as a war zone, adding: “If you live in Lebanon you will see we can have events and races for people all year round.”
Despite its challenges, for Roukoz the Bergen event has been an inspiring experience.
He told The Daily Star that he has “met cyclists I used to watch on TV,” before noting that “the fans have been amazing.”
Now his event is over, he will join them: “I’m looking forward to watching the elite men on Sunday. It’s a dream to see them.”