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Will Mark Cavendish win his first race for Dimension Data on the first day in Qatar?

Photo: ANSA - PERI / DAL ZENNARO

MARK CAVENDISH

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TOUR OF QATAR

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07.02.2016 @ 21:35 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

One of the most important races for the classics riders will kick off with a typical trip through the desert but the classics riders will disappointed to learn that there won't be much wind. Instead, it seems that the opening stage of the 2016 Tour of Qatar will come down to a straightforward bunch sprint.

 

The course

For the fifth year in a row, the time trial will not be held on the opening day, with the race again kicking off with a road stage. Like last year the race will kick off from Dukhan on the western shores of the peninsula and then make its way to the eastern coast and a finish at the well-known Al Khor Corniche. At 176km, it is a pretty long stage and the final part of the course is identical to the final section of last year’s second stage.

 

Following a small loop on the northern outskirts of the starting city of Dukhan, the riders will head into the desert as they travel in a northeasterly direction for most of the early part of the stage. Along the way, they will take three turns that will cause them to change direction briefly. Furthermore, they will contest the first intermediate sprint at the 74km to go mark.

 

With around 55km to go, they will turn again change direction as they turn to the southeast and heads towards the finish at Al Khor Corniche, hitting the course of last year’s second stage. Again the organizers have made a digression from the direct route which means that the riders will change direction a few times. The final intermediate sprint comes with 28km to go and a little later, the riders will turn to the south to head to the finish in Al Khor Corniche. Before reaching the line, they will do a small loop in the city.

 

The finale is not very technical. With 3.7km to go, the riders will go left in a roundabout and from there they will follow the coastal road which only has some sweeping turns. With 1.3km to go, there is a sweeping right-hand turn and from there it is straight to the finish on an 8m wide road.

 

Except for 2007, a stage has finished in Al Khor every year since 2005 when Lars Michaelsen was the first to win on a course that is similar to this year’s. In 2006, Tom Boonen won two stages there. In 2008, Alberto Loddo and Danilo Napolitano won bunch sprints while Roger Hammond was first across the line on a dramatic stage in 2009.

 

In 2010, Francesco Chicchi won a straightforward bunch sprint while Boonen was first across the line on a very windy opening stage in 2011. 2012 and 2013 saw the Corniche host bunch sprint finishes, with Mark Cavendish triumphing on both occasions. In 2014 Boonen was again triumphant when he won a very windy second stage and last year Alexander Kristoff opened his account on another very windy day. 

 

 

The weather

The Tour of Qatar is all about having a thorough look at the weather forecast to find out where the crosswind danger is. The opening stage is one of the two best options to blow the race to pieces but the classics specialists will be reluctant to learn that there won’t be much wind on Monday.

 

The stage will take place in sunny conditions and there will be a maximum temperature in the capital of Doha of 26 degrees. There will only be a light wind from a westerly direction which means that the riders will have a cross-tailwind almost all day. In the finale, there will be a few crosswind sections. The wind will be coming from the right in the final part until the riders turn into a tailwind for the final 1300m.

 

The favourites

The likes of Greg Van Avermaet, Alexander Kristoff and Lars Boom are desperately hoping that the meteorologists have messed things up. This year the reduced number of stages and the inclusion of a test stage on the Worlds circuit mean that there are only two real opportunities to split the peloton in the wind. They will come on the second and fourth day where most of the racing takes place in the desert and there is no circuit finish.

Unfortunately, Monday and Thursday will offer very little wind and even though the direction is almost perfect for the opening stage, we doubt that it is enough to do much damage. There will mostly be a cross-tailwind or a crosswind and that’s the right conditions to split things. Unfortunately, the wind won’t be strong and at this level you need more if you want to get rid of your rivals.

 

That doesn’t mean that we won’t have lots of nervousness, especially in the first part of the stage. We expect the usual hectic and fast opening phase where everyone is on their toes, trying to make all the splits. However, as things are unlikely to break up, the race should calm down and we expect a pretty straightforward stage where an early break is allowed to get clear.

 

Dimension Data, Katusha and maybe Bora-Argon 18 will be confident in their sprinters and are likely to organize a chase. Astana may also lend them a hand and so the break won’t have any chance. There will be a couple of changes of direction along the way and things will be nervous whenever the riders approach a corner. We won’t be surprised if BMC try to create a split but as said, we don’t expect the wind to be strong enough. Hence, we expect it to come down to a full bunch sprint. The second intermediate sprint comes just 28km from the finish and could come into play. Most of the sprinters will probably save their energy for the final kick but riders like Greg Van Avermaet and Lars Boom could go for the points here.

 

If it comes down to a sprint, it is important to notice that it is a very straightforward finale. The road is wide and the finishing straight is long. Furthermore, there will be a tailwind so this is a sprint for the real power sprinters.

 

Mark Cavendish failed to win a stage in Dubai but it was not for a lack of speed. In fact, he claimed to have had his best power since 2011 and it is definitely true that he looked fast in stage 2. However, he came up short as Dimension Data had a pretty poor lead-out.

 

That’s not the case in Qatar. The absence of Bernhard Eisel will be felt but by adding Tyler Farrar, Youcef Reguigui and Edvald Boasson Hagen to Matt Brammeier and Mark Renshaw, you get a very powerful line-up. On paper, that’s the strongest train in the race. The main issue is of course their lack of experience in working together but in this field, there aren’t many very strong trains. That will make it easier for the South Africans and it is worth remembering that a big part of the train was together at HTC-Highroad.

 

There is no doubt that Cavendish is the fastest rider in this field and he is also very good at positioning himself. As he is even supported by the best train, he is our favourite to win the stage.

 

Last year Alexander Kristoff dominated the sprints in Qatar and he left the race with three stage wins. This year he has an even bigger goal as he is eyeing the overall victory and he wants to pick up bonus seconds right from the start. Unlike Cavendish, he has not done any racing yet but last year’s performance proved that he can be very strong without any previous racing.

 

Kristoff is not a pure sprinter and he is not as fast as Cavendish. However, form is very important at this time of the year and he is likely to have plenty of that. More importantly, he is very good at positioning himself and he is extremely consistent.

 

His biggest asset is his train. Marco Haller and Jacopo Guarnieri formed the best train in last year’s Tour. They may not have the same overall amount of power as Dimension Data but those two riders have proved to be strong enough to deliver Kristoff on the front. It’s a great power sprint for the Norwegian so Cavendish has to be right behind if the Norwegian is delivered in the perfect position.

 

Sam Bennett has proved that he has the speed to beat almost everyone. Last year he won the final stage here and since then he has only become stronger. He got the year off to a solid start in Mallorca where he finished second and fourth in the two sprint races.

 

The Bora-Argon 18 train is getting stronger but for some reason Bennett often loses contact with his lead-out men in the finale. That happened in Mallorca and at this level there’s not room for that kind of mistake. However, if he can stay with his team and start his sprint from a good position, he has the speed to win.

 

Andrea Guardini is another pure sprinter who will be glad that there won’t be much wind. He is usually very strong at the start of the year and in 2015 he was riding really well here. However, he was not at his best in Dubai where he failed to come away with the expected results. Furthermore, he doesn’t have the best train and he is not very good at positioning. On the other hand, it’s a wide road and a great sprint for a fast guy like him so if he can find room to get through, he has the speed to win.

 

Honestly, we didn’t have many expectations for Sacha Modolo for the Dubai Tour but the Italian did much better than expected. His great results in 2015 were mostly based on his strong lead-out of Roberto Ferrari and Maximilano Richeze but the latter has now left the team. However, Ferrari did a great job in Dubai and Modolo showed that his form is very good. In this race, he won’t have Ferrari at his side and even though he is supported by many fast riders, they don’t have the same kind of experience. He is probably not fast enough to win but if he can get the positioning right, a podium spot is within reach.

 

Andrea Palini may be riding for a continental team but he has proved that he is one of the most consistent riders in the sprints in the Middle East. That was the case in Dubai too where he ended the race with a great fourth place. He doesn’t have much support in the finales but he has proved that he is one of the best at positioning and he also has the speed to match the best.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo have both Tom Van Asbroeck and Moreno Hofland and it is not obvious who’s going to be the protected sprinters. They will probably both get their chances during the race. However, this kind of sprint is probably better for Van Asbroeck as Hofland usually needs a harder race to really excel. The Dutch team have worked a lot on their lead-outs and they have a pretty powerful team here. None of them are probably fast enough to win but they can definitely be up there.

 

Brenton Jones was in great form at the start of the year but failed to get any kind of results in the Tour Down Under. However, he is very fast and has a strong team to support him, most notably with Graeme Brown at his side. He is a pure sprinter and is not able to survive windy conditions or hilly terrain but this kind of pure bunch sprint should suit him well.

 

Finally, we will point to Roy Jans. The Belgian has been improving his level consistently. He is clearly not as fast as the best but the Wanty train constantly gets better and better. In this race he is supported by Danilo Napolitano, Marco Marcato, Kenny Dehaes and Robin Stenuit and that’s a solid amount of firepower. If they can drop him off in a good position, a solid results is possible.

 

For more sprinters, look to Yauheni Hutarovich, Daniel McLay, Amaury Capiot, Zico Waeytens, Jempy Drucker, Daniel Oss, Barry Markus, Andre Looij, Gregorz Stepniak, Marco Canola, Carlos Alzate and Michael Carbel.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Mark Cavendish

Other winner candidates: Alexander Kristoff, Sam Bennett

Outsiders: Andrea Guardini, Sacha Modolo, Andrea Palini

Jokers: Tom Van Asbroeck, Moreno Hofland, Brenton Jones, Roy Jans

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