The wind made for some very fast racing in today's Tour of Qatar stage but the expected selection never materialized. The riders will get one final chance to split things up ahead of Friday's bunch sprint in Doha when they tackle the finishing circuits in Madinat al Shamal, and with a strong wind expected, opportunities to wreak havoc are certainly there. Starting at 12.45 CET you can follow the stage on CyclingQuotes.com/live.
The fifth stage sees the riders return to the northern part of the country which has been the scene of some rather dramatic racing in the past. The 159km stage is the only one that does not get close to the Doha area and starts in at the Al Zubara Fort on the northwest coast of the peninsula. From there the riders will travel in a southeastern direction before making two rapid changes in direction. Just after contesting the first intermediate sprint, the riders reach the North Road at the 47km mark where they turn left to travel straight north.
After 75.5km, the riders hit the circuit that will be the scene of the final part of the stage and 20km further up the road, they cross the finish line from the first line. They will now do one full lap of a 36.5km almost rectangular circuit that mostly has the riders travelling in a northwestern and southeastern direction. Getting to the finish line for the second time, the riders will do 2 laps on a shortened 13.5km circuit that mostly uses some of the same roads as the bigger one. The finish is rather straightforward as the road will only bend slightly to the left just after the 2km to go mark while the last challenge will be a roundabout that the riders will head straight through, just 750m from the finish. From there, it is a straight road with a width of 7m all the way to the finish.
With the final circuits offering plenty of changes in direction, the scene is set for a true drama if the wind is blowing strongly, and there will be plenty of nervousness and need for attention. That was the case when a stage first finished in the city in 2009, with Mark Cavendish making the selection and beating Heinrich Haussler in the final sprint. One year later Tom Boonen won a rather straightforward bunch sprint and the Belgian was again the winner in 2012, albeit after a big drama that saw him arrive at the finish as part of a select group that only consisted of Fabian Cancellara, Tom Veelers, Juan Antonio Flecha, Gert Steegmans, and the Belgian classics star. Last year the stage again ended with a classic bunch sprint which was again won by Cavendish.
Qatar will have some warmer, less windy weather in the weekend and the conditions will start to improve over the coming days. This will first be noticed tomorrow when the riders can expect to ride in temperatures of more than 20 degrees for the first time in the race. A maximum of 21 degrees is expected at the end of the stage on what will be a mostly sunny day with only a few clouds late in the afternoon.
It will be another windy day, with the wind only expected to decrease slightly compared to today's hard conditions. However, the wind is on the decline and will be strongest at the start of the race.
For the first time in this year's race, it will not come from a northwestern direction as the riders will have a northern wind. This means that they will have a cross-tailwind in the first part of the stage before turning into a fierce headwind for the long straight up to the finish. On the final circuits, there will be a cross-tailwind in the first part and a cross-headwind in the second. That will be the case until the final turn 1800m from the line where the riders will turn into a crosswind for the sprint.
As we had expected, today's stage was extremely fast and the peloton split on a number of occasions. As none of the GC riders ever missed the splits - with the exception of Lars Boom who was unfortunate to puncture out of the lead group - things was largely back together for the final sprint
The final stage will end in a big bunch sprint in Doha, meaning that tomorrow's stage offers the final chance to try to wreak havoc on the peloton. The conditions for a dramatic race are there and we are sure to see another nervous and fast race.
For the second day in a row, it is almost guaranteed that things will split up right from the beginning as the cross-tailwind is perfect for this to happen. With a long headwind coming up, however, one of the real key riders has to miss out for things not to come back together.
The real drama should happen on the final circuits where there will mostly be a crosswind. This should produce some interesting racing but we are a little bit uncertain about how much selection we will see.
Whenever the riders reach a dangerous section, Omega Pharma-Quick Step will surely hit the front but it will mainly be as a matter of precaution. They already have the first two places on GC virtually sealed and there is no reason for them to take any unnecessary risks.
BMC, Sky, and Tinkoff-Saxo will all try to give it a go but until now the key riders on GC have made the selection on all occasions. We doubt that they will get rid of riders like Jurgen Roelandts and Ian Stannard tomorrow and this means that there will be little incentive to keep things going when they turn into a cross-headwind in the second part of the circuit. Accidents like the one Boom had today can change that scenario dramatically and we are sure that there will be some kind of selection but we think that a rather big group will arrive at the finish for a sprint - much like it was the case today.
Yesterday we selected André Greipel as out winner pick but also made it clear that a sprint at the end of a very hard race is not the same as the usual bunch sprint. That proved to be true as Greipel was narrowly beaten by Tom Boonen which would virtually never happen if the sprint had come at the end of an easier race.
Tomorrow we again expect a sprint finish but like today it will not be a straightforward sprint stage. As things will have split up along the way, all riders will have been on the front to avoid getting caught out. This will again turn it into a tough race and change the usual sprint hierarchy.
The days when Boonen can win bunch sprints against riders like Greipel, Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel are obviously over but the Belgian is a master when it comes to sprinting at the end of the really hard days. Today's stage underlined this fact and he proved it on numerous occasions in his magnificent 2012 season, especially in Gent-Wevelgem and E3 when he beat faster riders to take the wins.
Greipel certainly masters that discipline as well but the tough racing usually takes a bit more sting out of his legs. Boonen has a fantastic team to support him and is a smart rider who knows how to handle the difficult crosswind sprint that will be an extra challenge tomorrow. By again underlining his ability to finish off the hardest races, Boonen will be the man to beat again tomorrow.
It will be a close one though. Apparently, Greipel made all the key selections today and he is likely to do so again tomorrow. Marcel Sieberg and Jurgen Roelandts again proved that their lead-out train is superior to all other sprint formations when they delivered their sprinter perfectly. He faded a bit in the headwind sprint. Unless something strange happens, he will again be delivered perfectly in tomorrow's sprint and there is a solid chance that he will finally take his first ever win in Qatar.
Yesterday we pointed to Barry Markus as an outsider for the stage and he paid back our confidence with a solid 3rd place. The Dutchman is obviously in splendid condition and should be right in the mix tomorrow. With Theo Bos still licking his wounds from a crash, his Belkin team will probably again support their new signing and he has the speed to beat Greipel and Boonen.
Markus is supported by one of the best teams for this kind of racing and he has proved that he has the ability to make the splits. As a pure sprinter, he is likely to pay a bit more for the hard racing than Greipel and Boonen and this will hamper his chances. If the race is a bit more controlled than it was today, he will have a good chance to open Belkin's account though.
Aidis Kruopis has been riding splendidly in the first part of the race and is probably still regretting the lost opportunity on stage 2 when he punctured out of the front group at a time when he was one of only very few sprinters to have made the selection. He is hard to drop in the crosswind and today he proved his fast legs by sprinting to 4th.
In the finale of today's stage, his Orica-GreenEDGE team took control but got swamped when Lotto launched their train. Having probably started a bit too early in the headwind, they will have learnt from their mistakes and will probably save themselves a bit longer tomorrow. Riders like Brett Lancaster and Leigh Howard are some of the best lead-out riders in the world and Kruopis is a very fast sprinter. If they time things right, that combination could be a winning one.
Arnaud Demare is in excellent condition as he proved when he finished 21st in the time trial but until now he hasn't had much success. In today's sprint, he could only manage 7th and probably paid the price for a lack of team support.
Crashes have forced Johan Le Bon, Matthieu Ladagnous and David Boucher to abandon and as his final lead-out man Mickael Delage had missed the split, he only had Murilo Fischer and Yoann Offredo for support. At the same time, he had to chase hard to get back as he had missed the split when the peloton broke in the final part of the stage. He is not part of one of the strongest teams for this kind of windy racing and he could again miss out in the selection. If he is there at the finish and has Delage at his disposal, he has the speed to win though.
IAM has mostly been in the headlines due to Martin Elmiger's great performances but their sprinter Matteo Pelucchi is actually riding really well. On stage 2, he had made the selection but was unfortunate to puncture out of the lead group. Today he finally got his chance to sprint but was boxed in and could only manage 8th.
Pelucchi is very fast but often loses out due to poor positioning. In this race, he has a very good lead-out team at his disposal and this should help him overcome that disadvantage. If Heinrich Haussler, Kristof Goddaert, Martin Elmiger, Kevyn Ista and Sebastian Hinault manage to position their Italian sprinter well, it could be IAM's day.
Finally, we will select our joker. So far no one has really noticed the presence of Bardiani in the race but the Italian team is in Qatar with a very fast sprinter. Filippo Fortin has been showing some good condition in the first few stages but his inexperienced team has been unable to handle the difficult conditions. Today he finally got his chance to sprint but could only manage 16th.
Fortin's main disadvantage is his lack of team support but as we expect a rather big group to arrive at the finish, he should have a few riders at his disposal. Neo-pro Nicola Ruffoni is another fast rider and Marco Coledan has plenty of lead-out experience. If they get things right in the finish, Fortin could be at the pointy end of the race.
CyclingQuotes' stage winner pick: Tom Boonen
Other winner candidates: André Greipel, Barry Markus
Outsiders: Aidis Kruopis, Arnaud Demare, Matteo Pelucchi
Joker: Filippo Fortin
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