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Starting at 13.15 CET you can follow the crucial time trial of the Tour of Qatar on CyclingQuotes.com/live

Photo: Sirotti

TOUR OF QATAR

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
10.02.2015 @ 13:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The wind blew the race to pieces and whittled the number of overall contenders down to just a handful of riders as the riders go into the crucial 10.9km time trial on the Lusail Motor Circuit. While TT specialists like Bradley Wiggins and Fabian Cancellara will battle for the victory, the sprinters 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 third individual time trial in the race's history and while much of the race will be determined in the crosswinds, the 10.9km 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, 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, last year’s 10.9km stage was much longer and still very technical. This year the riders will use the exact same course but they will tackle it in the opposite direction.

 

The stage is held on a short 5km road and shortly after the start the riders will turn right in a roundabout. 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 two 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 last year’s time trial.

 

 

The weather

Today the weather had a massive impact on what turned out to be one of the hardest stages of the Tour of Qatar history and even though it won’t play the same massive role in the time trial, it will still have an influence on the outcome of the stage.

 

In fact, tomorrow is set to be the windiest day of the entire week as there will be a very strong wind blowing from a southwesterly direction. This means that the riders will mainly have a tailwind in the first part before they turn into a headwind as they head towards the shooting complex. Having made the U-turn, they will mainly have a tailwind for the final 3.5km. Importantly, the wind will abate a bit as the day goes on

 

It will be another very sunny day with a maximum temperature of 28 degrees.

 

The favourites

After a dramatic day in the crosswinds, only 15 riders are left in contention for the overall win in the Tour of Qatar. The race was always set to be a battle between sprinters and classics specialists who would try to get rid of the time triallists in the crosswinds and they will be pleased that the biggest specialists like Bradley Wiggins, Fabian Cancellara, Lars Boom and Lieuwe Westra are now all out of the battle for the victory.

 

The sprinters will be pleased to get the time trial out of the way to get into a position where they know how much time they need to take back in the wind and sprints over the final three days. Important time gaps will be created tomorrow and from stage 4 it will be a fight for the fast guys to take back the time they will have lost at the end of tomorrow’s stage. Among the riders who are still in contention, the only real specialists are Maciej Bodnar and Niki Terpstra and they will both try to maximize their gains tomorrow before they go into the final half of the race.

 

The time trial is a pretty short affair which usually suits sprinters who are often excellent prologue riders. With no less than 8 roundabouts in a 10.9km 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 depending on when the riders will face a headwind. A distance of 10.9km is also a bit too much to really suit the fast riders and so it remains a battle for the specialists.

 

Importantly, the wind will abate a bit as the day goes on. Due to the nature of the course, however, it is unlikely to make a massive difference but of course it will be an advantage to ride in less windy conditions. This could give a small advantage for the later starters but for the GC battle, all riders will have the same conditions.

 

The biggest time trial specialists may have been taken out of contention for the overall win but they will still battle it out for the stage win and it is hard to look beyond world champion Bradley Wiggins as the overwhelming favourite. The Brit may have been unable to keep up with the best in the crosswinds but that is no big surprise. He is fully focused on his big goal at Paris-Roubaix and doesn’t want to take any unnecessary risks in the fierce fight for position and then he was almost destined to lose time on the windy days.

 

That doesn’t indicate that he not riding well though. In fact, he is expected to be at a more advanced level at this time of the year than he has been in the past as his goals come a little bit earlier. If one adds the fact that he has often been strong at the beginning of the season – 2013 and 2014 were exceptions – there is no reason to suggest that he is not going well and he has been reported to be training very intensely in Mallorca while also doing recon rides of the Paris-Roubaix course. This stage is his really big goal in this race and he would love to win his first race in the rainbow jersey.

 

The short, flat course with its many corners should suit a track specialist like Wiggins pretty well and over those distances he is very hard to beat. On paper, he is clearly the strongest time triallist in this race and even though he is not in peak condition, he has a clear advantage as none of his rivals are at their top level either. Wiggins goes into the stage as the major favourite and will clearly be the rider to beat.

 

Fabian Cancellara is probably the only rider who has a real chance of creating the surprise. The Swiss is not the time trallist he once was but he is still one of the very best. In fact, he is probably still the best prologue rider in the world and even though this stage is too long to be a real prologue, its nature should suit him well.

 

Cancellara has rarely been too strong in Qatar which is mainly a preparation race for his later objectives but this year he actually seemed to be a bit more focused on getting a result. He has made it clear that he won’t have the same single-eyed focus on certain big goals as he had last year and his Trek team said yesterday that their main goal was to win the race overall with their Swiss leader.

 

Those hopes have now been dashed and now Cancellara’s best chance of a result comes in tomorrow’s time trial. There was no excuse for his performance today and he simply admitted that he had been dropped. This indicates that he is more or less at the same level as he was one year ago and this will make it hard for him to beat Wiggins. On the other hand, you can never rule out Cancellara who is destined to finish in the top 5.

 

The big question mark for the time trial is Lars Boom. The Dutchman rode really strongly in both the Tour Down Under and the Dubai Tour and seemed to be riding well in the first stage too. In fact, he was our favourite to win the race overall but today he finished last, losing almost 24 minutes. Usually, it is impossible to drop Boom in the crosswinds and this indicates that he may have fallen ill.

 

Astana and Boom have given no explanation for his poor performance and this makes him a dark horse for tomorrow. The Dutchman is no great time triallist but for some reason he is always doing very well in the early part of the year and he has never finished outside the top 2 in the Qatar TTs which are held on normal road bikes which clearly suits the Dutchman. As he is clearly in great condition and 5kg lighter than he usually is at this time of the year, he should be in the mix if he is not suffering from any health issues.

 

A few years ago Lieuwe Westra was one of the very best time triallists in the world but over the last few years he has been unable to keep his usual high level. He has regretted the decline and made it clear that he wants to focus more on the TT again. This year he seems to be riding very strongly as he targets a top result in Paris-Nice and he has already been close to a win in the Tour Down Under. If his renewed focus on the TT has already paid off, he will be a contender.

 

Maciej Bodnar went into this race as a domestique for Peter Sagan but Tinkoff-Saxo made it clear that they would try to keep him in contention until the time trial. They have managed to do so in an excellent fashion as the Pole has made all the key splits and he seems to be riding exceptionally well at the moment. For a few years, his TT skills seemed to be in decline but last year he improved a lot and even won the Three Days of De Panne TT which is very similar to the one he will face tomorrow. He will be eager to gain as much time for the GC battle and this will make him one of the favourites.

 

Astana have several cards to play. In addition to Boom and Westra, Andriy Grivko is a very good time triallist and the Ukranian seems to be riding really well already in his first race of the season. Today he made all the right splits until he finally lost 15 seconds in the finale. In the past, he has done well in similar time trial in the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Belgium and he is very strong in this kind of short tests. At the moment, the form is very important and Grivko is clearly one of the in-form riders.

 

Marcel Kittel may not have had the best race yet but the German actually seems to be riding really well. In fact, he was very disappointed after yesterday’s stage which clearly indicates that he had big ambitions for this race and so must be in very good condition. He may be known as a sprinter but he first rose to fame as a great time triallist as a junior and since turning pro, he has done really well in short, flat time trials. Last year he was in the top 10 in a similar time trial in the Dubai Tour and if he is motivated to give it a go, he will definitely be a contender.

 

Matthias Brändle is mostly known as the former holder of the Hour Record but he has actually achieved great results in road TTs, especially on shorter courses. Last year he was fifth in the Tour of Britain and the Tour of Belgium and 7th in the Tour de Romandie and those courses were pretty similar to this one. His condition is a bit uncertain but on paper he has the power to be one of the top contenders.

 

Defending champion Niki Terpstra is a solid time triallist and he is clearly in his usual very good condition at this time of the year. He is no real specialist though and he is rarely able to match the best even when he is at 100%. On the other hand, he is clearly one of the in-form riders and this is very important at this time of the year.

 

Finally, we will select a few jokers. Jasper Stuyven is one of the greatest talents who already played a key role for Fabian Cancellara in the classics last year and this year he seems to have taken another step up. He is the only Trek rider to still be in GC contention and he is actually a solid time triallist on this kind of course. Last year he finished 9th in the final Vuelta TT and with his good condition, he should be up there.

 

Speaking about in-form riders, it is hard not to mention Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard is always one of the strongest riders at this time of the year and even though he is not a TT specialist, he has always done really well on short courses. Last year he crushed the opposition in the Ruta del Sol prologue which was a technical affair, and the many corners should suit him well.

 

Peter Sagan is one of the best prologue riders in the world and he is clearly in much better condition than he usually is at this time of the year. This time trial should be a bit too long to suit him perfectly but the many turns will be in his favour. He will keen to stay in GC contention and even though he is unlikely to win, he should be up there.

 

Alexander Kristoff has surprised himself by being in very good condition in a race where he has never done well in the past. Now he eyes a possible overall victory and this will make him very motivated for tomorrow. He is not a TT specialist but don’t be fooled by his status as a sprinter. In 2013, he was 6th in the De Panne TT which is very similar to this one and with his good condition, he could create another surprise.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Bradley Wiggins

Other winner candidates: Fabian Cancellara, Lars Boom

Outsiders: Lieuwe Westra, Maciej Bodnar, Andriy Grivko, Marcel Kittel, Matthias Brändle, Niki Terpstra

Jokers: Jasper Stuyven, Alejandro Valverde, Peter Sagan, Alexander Kristoff, Andrey Amador

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