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Who'll win the big dress rehearsal for the World Championships?

Photo: QCF/Paumer/Kåre Dehlie Thorstad

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NEWS

TOUR OF QATAR

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
08.02.2016 @ 19:18 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The wind created a greater selection than we had expected on what was actually a pretty calm day according to usual Qatari standards. Having eliminated lots of potential overall winners, the sprinters now hope to add to their haul of bonus seconds when they get a chance to test the course that will be used for next year’s World Championships in what will be the big dress rehearsal for the battle for the rainbow jersey.

 

The course

When it was announced that the World Championships will be held in Doha, the Tour of Qatar was always destined to be the big dress rehearsal and it is no surprise that the course includes a stage on the circuit that will be used in October. At the end of the relatively short second stage, the riders will get a chance to test themselves on the 19km circuit in the centre of Doha as they will do three laps before heading to a finish at the Qatar University.

 

At 135km, it is a short stage that starts at the Katara Cultural Village in Doha and ends at the university just a few kilometres from the start. It can be split into two parts, with the first part consisting of a small loop on the northern outskirts of the city. From the start, the riders will head north along a long straight road as they enter the desert. After 27.5km of racing, they will turn around to head back towards the city along a different road while also contesting the first intermediate sprint at the 39km mark.

 

Having returned to the city, the riders will contest the second intermediate sprint with 63.5km to go and then they will hit the Worlds circuit just two kilometres later. It’s a flat, technical circuit along big boulevards, with a big part being located on the Pearl island with a spectacular view to the coast. The riders will do three full laps of the circuit before they leave it to head to the finish at the University of Qatar. The final section is slightly longer than 5km and mostly consists of a winding road with two roundabouts. It leads to the final two turns which come at the 2.1km and 1.1km to go marks and then it is a straight, 8m wide road to the finish.

 

The University of Qatar has never hosted a stage finish before.

 

 

The weather

Monday didn’t offer much wind but it was still enough to split the field. For many riders, it was a brutal return to racing and they will be displeased to learn that Tuesday will be a much more normal day compared to the windy Qatari standard.

 

Of course it will be a day of bright sunshine and the maximum temperature will be a pleasant 22 degrees. There will be a strong wind blowing from a northwesterly direction which means that the riders will first have a headwind before they reach a short crosswind section. Then it’s mainly a cross-tailwind as they head back to the circuit where it will mainly be a crosswind. In the finale, there will mainly be a crosswind from the right apart from the section between the final two turns where it will be a tailwind.

 

The favourites

The Tour of Qatar is simply a race like no other. In any other race, the rather modest wind that was blowing on Monday would never have been enough to split the field but the very exposed roads in the desert and the extremely nervous peloton always make the races a lot more selective than expected. Every year there’s at least one stage that blows the race to pieces and this year it happened already on the first day.

 

The result was an important one as it took several potential winners out of contention. Lars Boom, Lieuwe Westra and Jos van Emden were among the time triallists to miss the split and it is important for Mark Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff to have limited the number of TT specialists in contention for the win. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Manuel Quinziato, Greg Van Avermaet, Arnaud Gerard and Søren Kragh Andersen are still there though and they will all be a danger in stage 3.

 

With so strong time triallists still in GC contention, Cavendish and Kristoff still need to add bonus seconds to their haul. For Kristoff, it is very important as he missed out in the final sprint today. They have three opportunities left and one of them comes tomorrow.

 

When it was announced that the Worlds will be held in Qatar, the organizers of the Tour of Qatar must have been confident that the inclusion of a stage on the Worlds circuit would make the race very attractive. However, that hasn’t been the case. Tomorrow’s stage is the only opportunity for the riders to tackle the circuit in a race before the October battle. However, the circuit is completely flat and so everybody knows what to expect from the race. There is no special need to travel to Qatar to check it out and there will be ample time to study the finer details when they arrive in Qatar a few days before the race. It seems that the inclusion of this stage has been no extra incentive to do the race.

 

Nonetheless, stage 2 will still be interesting. When the women tackled the circuit in their edition of the race, there was general consensus that the wind won’t play much of a role. However, Eddy Merckx who is part of the organizing committee is adamant that things can split up on the Pearl. Tomorrow we will get a very good indication as there will be a pretty strong crosswind on the Pearl.

 

The women said that the most difficult aspect of the circuit was the twisting, technical roads which mean that it is very important to stay near the front all the time. We are very curious to see what impact that will have but the most important less to get from tomorrow’s stage will be how the wind affects the race.

 

The riders will have a strong headwind from the start so we should have a less hectic beginning and unlike today we will probably get an early break. Then things will speed up when the peloton approaches the first turn and with a cross-tailwind on the run back to the city, we can expect a very nervous and aggressive peloton after the slow opening. This could very well spell the end for the break.

 

There is a big chance that things will split up before we get to the circuit and then much will depend on the composition of the groups and how much impact the wind has on the circuit. If splits can be made, it will be a very nervous and selective stage but according to the women that is unlikely to happen. If the roads are too covered by the buildings, it will all depend on who have been left behind in the early part of the stage. There’s a long way to the finish when we get to the finish and if no dangerous rider is dropped, we are likely to see a regrouping. Otherwise we could see a repeat of today’s stage and a reduced bunch sprint. In any case, it will come down to a sprint finish but it could both be a full bunch or a pretty small group. The sprint is again non-technical and it’s a long, wide finishing straight. This again suits the power sprinters.

 

Going into the race, Mar Cavendish was a bit nervous that his track training had left him with little endurance in the road races. He must have been very encouraged by his performance in today’s opening stage where he managed to stay with the best in a classic and very selective Qatar stage. This indicates that his form is much better than he feared and he must now have his eyes on a potential second win.

 

Furthermore, he must be encouraged by his sprint. He had claimed to have produced his best numbers since 2011 in Dubai where he had been up against an unstoppable Kittel. Today he confirmed that jis sprinting is very good as he was by far the fastest in the sprint. Finally, he must be pleased with his team which managed to place three riders in the front group.

 

At the moment, it is hard to imagine that anyone has the speed to beat Cavendish in a sprint and they need to win the battle for position to have a chance. However, with Farrar and Boasson Hagen showing good form and Mark Renshaw there in case of a full bunch sprint, he has a very good and experienced lead-out. Apart from Katusha, the best trains are not here so Cavendish is likely to get a good position for the sprint regardless of the size of the group.

 

The big challenge for Cavendish will be to survive if the stage becomes selective. Today he was in the first group but as his road condition is not at his best, he could miss out in one of the stages. We doubt that it will happen tomorrow, especially as the chances of a big bunch sprint are great, so he is our stage winner pick.

 

Today Alexander Kristoff did a very poor sprint. It was a bit of a surprise as the conditions were right for the Norwegian. It had been a hard, fast race, it was a real power sprint and he got the perfect lead-out. Nonetheless, he only drifted backwards in the sprint.

 

However, Kristoff had done no racing before arriving in Qatar and he seemed to be a lot more generous during the stage than the likes of Cavendish, Modolo and Guardini. He may have been a bit more tired than his rivals and this may explain his poor sprint. Last year he also did a bad first sprint and then went on to win another three stages.

 

Kristoff is usually not fast enough to beat Cavendish in a big bunch sprint but tomorrow’s stage could again be selective. This will suit him well and he recovers better than Cavendish. Furthermore, the Katusha team proved to be very strong even though his two key lead-out men Marco Haller and Jacopo Guarnieri missed the split.

 

Kristoff’s best chance is in a selective race but on paper he has the best lead-out in the race. If it’s a big bunch sprint, there is a big chance that Katusha will dominate the finale and the power sprint suits the Norwegian. One day of racing can do a big difference so Kristoff could easily strike back.

 

We were very impressed to see Sam Bennett make the split in this kind of hard sprint. He claims that it was a bit of luck that allowed him to be there but it proves that he has become a lot stronger. In the end, he didn’t have his usual speed which is no surprise at the end of such a tough race.

 

The result is a confirmation of his good form but it remains to be seen whether he has the recovery skills to be there every day. We doubt that he will be strong enough to win a selective race but if tomorrow’s easier stage ends in a big bunch sprint, he will be one of the fastest. Bora-Argon 18 have a great train here and they are constantly improving. If they can drop Bennett off in a good position, he is fast enough to win.

 

Andrea Guardini is known for his fragile nature which means that he has usually been dropped whenever the race got just a little bit tough. That seemed to change in Qatar 12 months ago and today he confirmed that he is actually pretty strong in windy conditions. The tough stage meant that he was suffering from cramps in the sprint and we doubt that he will be able to win such a hard stage. However, tomorrow’s stage could be a lot easier and he is one of the very fastest at the end of a short, easy stage. The main challenge will be positioning but the wide road should make things a bit easier for him. If he gets a good positioning for the sprint, this is a stage for him.

 

Sacha Modolo again underlined that he is in great form right from the start of the year as he made the split and did a good sprint to take second. In fact he seems to be faster than ever before as he has been doing well despite not having the best lead-outs. It won’t be easy for him to win a big bunch sprint though. His train is solid but they don’t have much experience and he is not fast enough to win a big bunch kick. In a selective race, however, he has a big chance, especially if Cavendish has been left behind.

 

We will again point to Andrea Palini as a solid contender. The Skydive sprinter is one of the most consistent sprinters in the Middle East races and makes up for his lack of team support with his great positioning skills. Today he missed the move but he was in the second group and has shown good condition throughout the entire winter. It won’t be impossible for him to make the selection and he will be a contender in both a big bunch sprint and a selective race.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo performed very badly in today’s stage as they were one of two WorldTour teams to miss the selection. They worked hard to bring it back but came up short. However, Moreno Hofland showed solid condition by making it into the second group with several teammates. As opposed to this, Tom Van Asbroeck was far behind. The team lost two riders due to punctures and Van Asbroeck is maybe one of them but it seems that Hofland has the better condition. Tomorrow there is a bigger chance that we will have a bunch sprint and as LottoNL-Jumbo have one of the best trains, he will be ready to strike back.

 

BMC played with the muscles in today’s stage but their sprinter Jempy Drucker missed the split. The Luxembourger ended up in the second group but is usually strong enough to survive these conditions. He is not fast enough to win a big bunch sprint but he may have a chance from a smaller group. Furthermore, he is great at positioning himself which makes him a possible podium contender if the stafe turns out to be less selective.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Mark Cavendish

Other winner candidates: Alexander Kristoff, Sam Bennett

Outsiders: Andrea Guardini, Sacha Modolo, Andrea Palini

Jokers: Moreno Hofland, Jempy Drucker

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