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Starting at 13.15 CET you can follow the fourth stage of the Tour of Qatar on CyclingQuotes.com/live

Photo: Sirotti

TOUR OF QATAR

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
11.02.2015 @ 13:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

As expected the time trial opened up significant time differences and the overall seems to be decided as the riders get back into the traditional desert racing in Qatar on stage 4. More wind is expected but as it will mainly be a headwind, it could be the first chance for the sprinters to battle it out in a big bunch sprint.

 

The course

The riders will be back to fight potential crosswinds on the fourth stage which is another pretty long one compared to usual Qatar standards. As they did on stage 2, the riders will mainly travel in a north-south direction but this time they will go the opposite way.

 

The 165km stage starts in Al Takhira just north of Doha and in the first 35km, the riders will travel inlands as they head in a northwesterly direction. Then they will make a left-hand turn to get onto the big north-south road that they will use for most of the race. The first intermediate sprint comes at the 76km mark.

 

With 40km to go, the riders will change direction as they continue in a southeasterly direction back towards the coast and the finish in Mesaieed just south of Doha. Before they get to the finish, they will contest the final intermediate sprint when 29km still remain and before entering the finishing city, they will do a small loop.

 

The finale will be dominated by lots of roundabouts. Around the 4km to go mark, the riders will go through three of those obstacles in quick succession and there is another one at the 3.5km to go mark. With 2.7km to go, they turn right in another roundabout before they go straight though another. With 1.6km, they will go right in the final roundabout which leads them onto the long 9m wide finishing straight in Mesaieed.

 

Mesaieed has hosted five stage finishes in the past. A young Greg Van Avermaet took the first one in 2007 from a breakaway while Tom Boonen won a bunch sprint in 2010. In 2011, Heinrich Haussler took the win on a windy day while Mark Cavendish came out on top in the 2013 bunch sprint. Last year Boonen created a surprise when he beat André Greipel in another bunch kick.

 

 

The weather

There is simply no respite from the heat and wind in Qatar and the weather forecast is very similar to the one, there has been for the first three days. With a maximum temperature of 30 degrees, it will be another hot day but this time there may be a bit of shade as the afternoon will be unusually cloudy.

 

The last two days have been very windy but things should calm down a bit for the final three days. Nonetheless, it will still be a strong wind that is blowing from a southwesterly direction. This means that the riders will first have a tailwind before they turn in to a brief crosswind section. From there, however, it will be a cross-headwind for most of the day before the riders turn into a direct headwind for the final 35km. The final loop around Mesaieed will see the riders have a short crosswind section before they turn into a cross-headwind for the final 3km.

 

The favourites

Niki Terpstra crushed the opposition in the time trial, showing that he has taken another step up and will be a force to be reckoned with in the classics. Like last year, he is now poised to go into the big one-day races with a stage race win already on his palmares as it will be very hard to take the golden jersey off his shoulders.

 

Only Ian Stannard and Maciej  Bodnar can realistically take the jersey back only by picking up bonus seconds but as they are not very fast, that is very unlikely to happen. The sprinters like Alexander Kristoff, Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan have all been considerably distanced and they can only go for stage wins and maybe try to get onto the podium.

 

The only way to prevent Terpstra from winning the race overall is by dropping him in the crosswind but that is an almost impossible task. Over the last few years, the Dutchman has not missed a single split in Qatar and he is part of the strongest team as Etixx-QuickStep are usually the ones to take the initiative to blow things to pieces. In Qatar, the best way to protect an overall lead is by riding offensively in the crosswinds section so there is no chance that Etixx-QuickStep will be less aggressive if the opportunity arises. As he is supported by the best team and is clearly in excellent condition, Terpstra seems to be destined to win the race overall.

 

The first chance for his rivals to put him under pressure comes tomorrow when the riders head back into the desert for another windy, typical Qatar stage. However, they will mostly have a cross-headwind or a headwind and this means that it will be very hard to make a difference on this stage. Instead, it may be the first big chance for the sprinters to finally battle it out in a big bunch sprint.

 

In the first part of the stage, there is a very short crosswind section, then a tailwind section and then another crosswind section. This should again set the scene for a dramatic and fast start to the stage where it will be full gas right from the gun. Everybody wants to be in a good position for the crucial turn in Al Ghuwariya and with the strong wind, the race is destined to split at this point.

 

A few kilometres later, however, the peloton will turn into a cross-headwind and the wind will mainly be blowing against the riders for the remainder of the stage. This means that it will be a massive task for a few teams to maintain the splits all the way to the finish as more than 100km still remain at this point of the race. Unless some of the key contenders have missed out, it is very likely that we will see a regrouping and then the race will probably settle a rhythm.

 

A break is likely to be established but with a long day in a headwind, it is unlikely to be very big. They will probably be given quite a big advantage before Etixx-QuickStep will start to control the situation. They may not be too interested in catching the breakaway and they will probably leave it to the sprint teams to start the chase. We expect Giant-Alpecin, FDJ, Cofidis and maybe Katusha to share the workload and make sure that the break will be brought back.

 

There are a few small changes of direction along the way but the crosswind sections are so short that things are unlikely to split. This means that the race will probably be a traditional sprint stage and with many big sprinters in the race, the break is likely to get caught. They may even have been caught before the final intermediate sprint which will open the door for the GC contenders to sprint it out for the bonus seconds. However, the big sprinters will probably save their legs for the finale.

 

There is a short crosswind section inside the final 5km but as the riders will now be in the city of Mesaaied and so be better protected and as the section is very short and comes in the very finale, we don’t expect it to cause too much drama. This stage should be decided in a bunch sprint and with a 1600m finishing straight on a very wide road, it is one for the very fast power sprinters.

 

This means that Marcel Kittel is the obvious favourite to finally take the win that has eluded him in the first few stages. The big German has been suffering in the crosswinds where he has mostly been unable to make the selection. After the first stage, however, he was unable to hide his disappointment and Giant-Alpecin have also revealed that they were actually targeting the GC with their German sprinter. This is a clear indication that his form is pretty good and one should not put too much emphasis on the fact that he missed the split in the sandstorm on stage 2 where even very skilled classics riders were unable to keep up with the best. In stage 1, his team rode too far back and this cost him the chance to sprint for the win.

 

With a long day in the headwind, however, it should be a rather easy stage for the sprinters and this means that Kittel will arrive pretty fresh at the finish. With a long, wide finishing straight, the sprint is tailor-made for him and he can even count on the support from what is clearly the best lead-out train in this race. With Bert De Backer, Ramon Sinkeldam, Nikias Arndt and his final lead-out man Tom Veelers on hand to position him for the finale, there is a big chance that he will be delivered in the perfect position and then he will be very hard to beat.

 

The rider who could potentially do so is Andrea Guardini. The tiny Italian is known as a pure sprinter who is usually unable to handle even the slightest challenge. This year, however, he has apparently taken a massive step up as he made all the splits on the dramatic stage 2 – something that would have been impossible in the past. This indicates that he is in excellent condition and he proved so in Dubai too as he was very close to a stage win in the first of the races in the Middle East.

 

With a strong headwind, this should be a very easy day for most of the riders and this means that Guardini will be very fresh when he arrives at the finish. That’s a clear advantage for the Italian who usually loses quite a bit of his top speed at the end of hard races. Furthermore, the wide finishing straight means that he is less likely to get boxed in. He may not be supported by the strongest lead-out train but in Dubai, Ruslan Tleubayev and Lars Boom both did a great job and in this race he can also count on Borut Bozic. On what should be an easy day, Guardini will always be one of the favourites.

 

Arnaud Demare did an impressive sprint on stage 1 where he finished third despite a gear problem. Nonetheless, he did a very fast sprint which comes as no surprise as the Frenchman is one of the fastest riders in the peloton. He may have been dropped in the crosswinds on stage 2 but he doesn’t seem to be riding poorly despite the lack of recent racing.

 

Demare has often proved that he is very strong in this kind of power sprints at the end of an easy day and it is no coincidence that he is a double winner of the final stage into Doha. Furthermore, the FDJ lead-out train has improved a lot and even though it may not be quite as strong as Giant-Alpecin, Demare should be able to start his sprint from a good position. If he can time it right in the headwind, he has the speed to win.

 

We have been positively surprised by Alexander Kristoff’s good condition as the Norwegian has never been very good in Qatar. This year, however, he is riding very strongly right from the beginning of the year and this makes him an obvious contender. The sprint doesn’t suit him well though as it will be one for the pure sprinters and he needs a harder day to really excel. On the other hand, he is very strong at positioning himself and he is brutally strong in a headwind sprint. It would be no surprise to find Kristoff on the right wheel in the finale and then he could take win number two.

 

On paper, Nacer Bouhanni is one of the fastest riders in this field but the Frenchman has had a terrible start to his Cofidis career. He has not had any kind of success in Mallorca or Qatar and his lead-out train has been working very poorly. However, he wasn’t too far back in yesterday’s stage and his condition doesn’t seem to be too bad. The final sprint doesn’t suit him too well but he is usually very good at positioning himself. If he can find back those skills, he definitely has the speed to win.

 

Lampre-Merida and Sacha Modolo have been very anonymous so far but in yesterday’s hard stage, the Italian sprinter was actually in the front group until he suffered a hunger knock. This indicates that he is riding pretty well and he was pretty close to a win in San Luis earlier this year. He doesn’t have a very strong team but for the lead-outs, they are usually able to do very well. Modolo has proved that he is one of the fastest riders and even though this stage doesn’t suit him perfectly, he will be a contender.

 

Usually, we would never mention Jose Joaquin Rojas as a contender for this kind of sprint but the Spaniard made a big surprise when he won stage 1. Already in Mallorca he showed great condition and he seems to be riding better than ever. He was brutally strong in that first sprint and if he still has the same kind of power, he could create another surprise. On the other hand, he doesn’t have the strongest lead-out and this will be a clear disadvantage when it comes to the fight for position.

 

Finally, we will select a few jokers. Theo Bos has not yet had the chance to show his speed in MTN-Qhubeka colours but the Dutchman is clearly riding very well. He has made it a big goal to be ready already from the start of the season and he proved so yesterday when he stayed with the best until he was taken out by a mechanical. This kind of easy power sprint suits him down to the ground and he is supported by a very strong train. They may not have found their automatisms yet but if they can position Bos reasonably, he is one of the fastest riders.

 

Sam Bennett has already been close to the podium twice in 2015 and he is clearly in very good condition. Last year he proved that he has the speed to match the best and now he is supported by a much better team as Bora-Argon 18 have strengthened their lead-out train. He is knocking on the door for a big breakthrough win and even though it will be hard in this classy field, he could create a surprise.

 

The same can be said about Nicola Ruffoni who has proved has proved that he has the speed to go head to head with Kittel in this kind of sprint. Until now he has not had a lot of success as he doesn’t have a team to support him in the finale. On this very wide road, he is less likely to get boxed in and this means that he can finally make use of his impressive speed to achieve a top result.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Marcel Kittel

Other winner candidates: Andrea Guardini, Arnaud Demare

Outsiders: Alexander Kristoff, Nacer Bouhanni, Sacha Modolo, Jose Joaquin Rojas

Jokers: Theo Bos, Sam Bennett, Nicola Ruffoni

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