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Who'll win the crucial time trial on the Lusail Motor Circuit at the Tour of Qatar?

Photo: LottoNL-Jumbo

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10.02.2016 @ 11:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After two days trying to limit their losses in the crosswinds, the time triallists will be ready to strike on the third day of the Tour of Qatar as it is time for the crucial 11.4km race against the clock. While the specialists will be fighting for the stage win and try to gain as much time as possible, sprinters like Alexander Kristoff and Mark Cavendish will try to limit their losses to stay in contention for the overall win.

 

The course

The third day of the race will be the one for the fourth individual time trial in the race's history and while much of the race will be determined in the crosswinds, the 11.4km race against the clock will open up significant time gaps that will play a crucial role in the final GC.

 

Like last year, the stage will be held on the Lusail Circuit just north of Doha where the team time trial took place in 2012, a stage that was won by Garmin-Sharp. The area hosts a shooting complex, a motorcycle circuit and the Technical Center of the Qatar Cycling Federation which the riders will pass along their way.

 

Compared to the inaugural time trial of the 2011 edition which was a very short and very technical affair held in the city of Doha and which was won by Lars Boom ahead of Fabian Cancellara, the 10.9km stage used in 2014 and 2015 was much longer and still very technical. This year the riders will use the almost the same course but as one of the turning points has been moved slightly, the distance has been increased to 11.4km.

 

Shortly after the start the riders will turn right in a roundabout and less than two kilometres from the start, they will turn around in another roundabout and head back to the start-finish area. From here the riders, will head along straight roads that should give the powerful riders the chance to shine as they will only have to turn right in two roundabouts for the next several kilometres. With a little less than 4km to go, they will reach the shooting complex where they will turn around in another roundabout. From there, they will head the same way back to the finish, with the final left-hand turn coming just after the flamme rouge.

 

The Lusail circuit has been used for three stages in the history of the race. After Garmin-Sharp won the team time trial in 2012, Michael Hepburn took the biggest win of his career when he beat Lars Boom and Daniele Bennati to win the 2014 time trial. Last year Niki Terpstra was the fastest as he put 8 seconds into Cancellara and 9 seconds into Bradley Wiggins.

 

 

The weather

After the less windy first stage, Tuesday was very windy and the race was always going to split up in the early part of the race. However, the less exposed roads on the Worlds circuit allowed everything to come back together.

 

Wednesday will be almost identical to Tuesday. Again it will be beautiful sunshine with a maximum temperature of 22 degrees. It will be less windy though, with a moderate wind blowing from a northerly direction. This means that the riders will mainly have a tailwind in the first part and a headwind on the way back. The wind will be relatively constant throughout the stage and all riders should have similar conditions.

 

The favourites

It was hard not to get a feeling of déjà vu in today’s stage. Last year Alexander Kristoff did a poor sprint on the first stage and then bounced back with dominant performances throughout the rest of the race. Today he did it again as he looked like his former self after yesterday’s poor sprint.

 

One has to admit that Mark Cavendish had a much harder time than Kristoff as he was sprinting in the wind which was coming from the right and there is still little doubt that the Manxman is the faster of the pair. However, Kristoff had again used his great positioning skills – and a strong lead-out train – to get the perfect spot for the sprint and that allowed him to stay better protected and some come away with the win.

 

At the same time, both Kristoff and Cavendish scored important bonus seconds and still have another two chances to add to their haul. However, it is still going to be touch and go whether it will be enough as there are still several strong time triallists in contention.

 

We will be a lot wiser after tomorrow’s stage which will probably whittle the battle for overall victory down to the best time triallist, Kristoff and Cavendish. Riders like Jos van Emden, Lars Boom and Lieuwe Westra have lost ground and are no longer in GC contention but there are still several good time triallists up there on GC.

 

The course is almost identical to the one that was used in 2014 and 2015 and only a little bit longer due to the fact that the turning point has been moved. With no less than 8 roundabouts in an 11.4km course, acceleration and technical abilities will be important but as it will be possible to pedal through most of the turns, the course remains one for the powerful riders. With the course set to be dominated by strong winds, it will be important to gauge the effort, especially as there will be a headwind in the final part.

 

Furthermore, it is important to note that the riders will be riding on normal road bikes as the teams are never asked to bring their TT equipment all the way to Qatar. This always causes some frustration for the time trial specialists who are used to ride on their TT bikes.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo have had a bad race until now as they missed the split on the first stage and were taken out by the crash today. However, they have a formidable chance to bounce back in the time trial. Jos van Emden was a pre-race favourite for the overall victory but all his hopes were dashed on the first day. Now his big goal is to win the time trial and he stands our as one of the biggest contenders.

 

Van Emden was a great time triallist when he turned professional but for some reason his progress stalled and he disappeared into anonymity. It all changed in 2015 when he finished fifth behind Dennis, Martin, Cancellara and Dumoulin the opening Tour time trial and when he won the star-studded Eneco Tour TT. Those two time trials are very comparable to this one and in general he seems to excel over this distance.

 

Van Emden seems to be in reasonable condition as he was in the second group yesterday and he was riding strongly for Moreno Hofland today. He is obviously not at his best yet but that’s not the case for any of the time triallists. On paper, he is the biggest specialist in this race and his riding style means that he should not be hampered too much by the use of road bikes. Van Emden is out favourite to win the stage.

 

One of the riders that are aiming for both the stage win and the overall victory, is Manuel Quinziato. The Italian seems to be very strong and has made all the splits in the crosswinds. This puts him in a perfect position to go for glory in the time trial where he is one of the specialists.

 

For many years, Quinziato did not excel in this discipline but in 2014 he did some amazing time trials on flat courses. He failed to deliver the same kind of performances in 2015 and it remains to be seen whether he can return to his former level. However, this course suits him really well and as he is in great condition, he could very well win the stage and take the leader’s jersey.

 

Another rider going for both the jersey and the stage is Edvald Boasson Hagen. The Norwegian is brutally strong but for some reason he has not been able to live up to expectations in the time trials. He usually ends in the top 10 but he rarely wins the TTs. Last year he was only 8th in Qatar.

 

However, the TT field is much weaker this year and Boasson Hagen seems to be a lot stronger. He has made all the key splits while also working hard for Cavendish. The course should suit him well and with no obvious favourite here, the Norwegian could finally take his first major TT win since the 2009 Eneco Tour.

 

Going into the race, Lars Boom was a big favourite for the overall win but he has been nowhere to be seen in the first two road stages. He was only in the third group on stage 1 and doesn’t seem to be at his best. He has done a lot of racing in Australia and Dubai but didn’t really show himself there either. On the other hand, he did well at the cyclo-cross Worlds which is a similar, relatively short effort. Last year he got back on track after a few poor time trial seasons and he has done well on road bikes before, finishing second here two years ago and winning the TT in 2009.

 

His teammate Lieuwe Westra is another TT specialist. The Dutchman has claimed that his form is great but until now he has not got any results in Dubai or Australia. Furthermore, he was only in the second group on stage 1. At the same time, his time trialling is no longer what it once was and even though he aims to get back to his former level, he is still not there. Nonetheless, he could still win this TT as he the field is not stacked with talent.

 

Greg Van Avermaet always had the time trial as one of his weak points until it changed last year. In Qatar, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Eneco Tour, he did some very good TTs on shorter distances. As usual, he has been at a very high level right from the start of the year and he hopes to gain time in tomorrow’s stage. He would have preferred a hillier, more technical course but he was ninth 12 months ago and this year he should do even better.

 

The third BMC rider that could do really well is Daniel Oss. Like Van Avermaet and Quinziato, he has made all the splits but was dropped in the finale of stage 1. That has taken him out of GC contention but his form is clearly good. He is not a real TT specialist but has done well in this kind of tests in the past as he is brutally strong on flat roads. He is unlikely to win but should be up there.

 

Alexander Kristoff’s goal is to limit his losses but don’t rule the big Norwegian out. Last year he was far off the pace but by taking third in the very similar De Panne TT, he has proved that he can do well in this kind of test. Since then he has been working to improve his TT skills and he has a lot of power for this course. H is probably not going to win but we won’t be surprised if he finishes in the top 10.

 

Young Søren Kragh Andersen is making his professional debut in this race and he has been very impressive. He made the split on stage 1 and so is in GC contention. At the same time, he is a good time triallist as he won the prologue of last year’s Tour de l’Avenir and was third in the Tour of Denmark time trial. He should find the relatively short course to his liking even though he would probably have preferred it to be more technical. Unfortunately, he crashed in today’s stage and it remains to be seen how much it will affect him-

 

Arnaud Gerard has not got much attention but the Frenchman is riding really well. He made the split on stage one and is in GC contention. Time trialling is his specialty and his form is obviously very good. He is not enough of a specialist to win but he should be up there.

 

Patrick Gretsch is one of the big specialists but he is very inconsistent. He is never very good at this time of the year and he has not done well here in the past. This year he seems to be riding better and so it may finally be time for him to do well.

 

Finally, Daniel Eaton deserves a mention. The neo-pro is the American U23 time trial champion and he proved his talent by taking fourth in the USA Pro Challenge TT last year. He was in the second group yesterday and so seems to be in good condition. We are curious to see what he can do here.

 

Other specialists include Jesse Sergent and Damien Gaudin but they don’t seem to have the form to win the stage. We expect a good ride from Mike Teunissen and maybe Hugo Houle.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Jos van Emden

Other winner candidates: Manuel Quinziato, Edvald Boasson Hagen

Outsiders: Lars Boom, Lieuwe Westra, Daniel Oss, Greg Van Avermaet

Jokers: Alexander Kristoff, Søren Kragh Andersen, Arnaud Gerard, Patrick Gretsch, Daniel Eaton

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