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

Photo: Qatar Cycling Federation/Paumer/B.Bade

TOUR OF QATAR

RACE PROFILE
|
NEWS
12.02.2015 @ 13:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

As expected, the strong headwind made it impossible to split the peloton on today’s stage of the Tour of Qatar and with the final stage set to finish in another bunch sprint, tomorrow’s fifth stage is the final chance to try to drop race leader Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep). The wind will be abating during the day but with lots of crosswinds, another drama can be expected.

 

The course

As it has become tradition, 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 153km 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, with a finish in Madinat Al Shamal in the very north of the peninsula. The stage is very similar to the one used 12 months ago but a few modifications have been made, mainly by reducing the number of laps and circuits that will be done in the finale.

 

From the start, the riders will travel in a southeasterly direction before doing a small lap of a circuit in the middle of the desert that will see the riders head in several different directions. After completing the lap, the riders will head back along the same road to Al Zubarah Fort where they will contest the first intermediate sprint after 87km of racing.

 

The peloton will now follow the coastal road to the northern tip of the peninsula until they reach the finish line for the first time with 27km to go. Here they will contest the final intermediate sprint before starting two laps of a 13.5km finishing circuit. That circuit was also used in the finale of last year’s stage and many riders will know everything about it.

 

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 a long trip through the desert, a run along the coast and the final circuit offering plenty of changes in direction, the scene is set for a true drama, 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. In 2013 the stage again ended with a classic bunch sprint won by Cavendish and last year André Greipel took his only win of the race from a bunch kick.

 

 

The weather

All week the riders have had a very strong wind from a southerly and southeasterly direction but a change is now forecasted. Tomorrow evening the wind direction will change as it will move from a southerly to a northerly direction. This means that the wind will abate throughout the day until it starts to pick up from the new direction in the evening.

 

During the race, the riders will still have a strong southerly wind but it as they get closer to the finish, it will have abated significantly. This means that the riders will first have a cross-tailwind but after around 30km, they will turn into a crosswind and later into a cross-tailwind which will assist them all the way until they hit the finishing circuit. Here they will have a cross-headwind in the first half, then a cross-tailwind and finally a crosswind in the final 2km.

 

With a temperature of 31 degrees, it will be a very hot day but there will be unusually many clouds and the riders are unlikely to get a single glimpse of the sun.

 

The favourites

With a strong headwind blowing for most of the day, the riders quickly resigned themselves to an easier day in the saddle and a bunch sprint at the end of the fourth stage. There were a few nervous moments in the opening part but as soon as they turned into the headwind, no one even considered to try to split things in the wind.

 

Nonetheless, race leader Niki Terpstra lost 5 seconds to nearest rival Maciej Bodnar as he was caught behind a split in the finale. With a 6-second advantage, however, he still finds himself in a very comfortable position and not even two stage wins for Alexander Kristoff will be enough for the Norwegian to take the overall victory.

 

Kristoff may now fancy his chances as he only needs to pick up a single bonus second in an intermediate sprint to make two stage wins enough to win the race. For teams like Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo, however, their only chance to win the race is by splitting things in the crosswinds and as the final stage is not really suitable to that kind of aggressive racing, tomorrow is the final chance.

 

The teams with aggressive plans should find the conditions to their liking as there will be lots of cross-tailwind which is the most dangerous wind direction. In the first part, the riders will have a cross-headwind and this means that we will probably be in for a pretty slow and controlled start to the race. An early break is likely to be established pretty easily but a number of riders may be keen to get into the move to avoid the big fight for position later in the race.

 

Etixx-QuickStep will probably control the break until the hit the crosswind near the Army Camp after around 30km of racing. From there the riders will have a crosswind or a cross-tailwind all the way until the hit the finishing circuit with 27km to go, meaning that the scene is set for some very nervous and dramatic racing.

 

Unfortunately, the wind won’t be as strong as it has been in recent days and it will definitely be harder to split the field. Nonetheless, the pace will be extremely high as everyone will be very nervous and there is no doubt that several riders will fall off the pace.

 

On paper, Etixx-QuickStep have no reason to attack but in the crosswind, the best way to defend yourself is by riding offensively. Hence, the Belgian team will probably be the ones to take the initiative and be the ones to rip the peloton apart. Sky have promised to try to drop Niki Terpstra but as the Dutchman is part of the best team he is likely to be on the front foot and it seems that only bad luck will prevent the defending champion from making the splits.

 

With a cross-tailwind for most of the day, the race is unlikely to calm down at any moment and the early break will probably be caught even before they reach the first intermediate sprint. Those are good news for Kristoff as he will have a chance to pick up bonus seconds in both of the sprints.

 

There is a chance that the wind won’t be strong enough to split the field, especially in the second half of the stage, and when they hit the finishing circuit, the conditions won’t be perfect for an aggressive approach. If that’s the case, we may see a kind of regrouping and so there is a chance that it will come down to a traditional bunch sprint. However, we believe that the race will be more selective and even though the final group will probably be bigger than the 15 riders who sprinted for the win in stage 2, a big bunch sprint is unlikely.

 

The most probable scenario is that we will see a sprint from a reduced group but the door may also be open for attackers. In such a small group at the end of a long, hard race, it is very hard to control and as there will mainly be a tailwind in the final few kilometres, a brave move may pay off and deny the fast guys a chance to sprint for the win.

 

Nonetheless, it is very hard not to see Alexander Kristoff as the big favourite. The Norwegian has proved that he is in outstanding condition and his dominance in today’s bunch sprint was made even more impressive by the fact that he did a very long sprint into a very strong headwind. There is no doubt that he is currently the strongest rider in the bunch and tomorrow’s stage suits him perfectly.

 

Usually, Kristoff is not the best rider for the big bunch sprints and so he will only benefit from the harder conditions for tomorrow’s stage. With his current condition, it is very hard to imagine that he will get dropped in the crosswinds and at the end of a hard race, he is the fastest rider in the world. Furthermore, he is excellent at positioning himself for the sprints and as he proved in stages 2 and 4, he has the power to ride in the wind and move into position while still keeping enough left for the sprint.

 

If the race comes down to a sprint from a select group, Kristoff is the obvious favourite and it is very hard to imagine that anyone will be able to beat. Today he even proved that he will be the favourite in case of a big bunch sprint. In fact, his status will only be more obvious due to the fact that the race is likely to be hard and fast which usually suits him really well. If he can pick up a single second along the way, he could suddenly find himself within shooting distance of the race leader after another sprint win tomorrow.

 

Today Peter Sagan did a very good sprint despite launching his effort from an unusually poor position. This indicates that the Slovakian is getting better after his recent crash and he seems to be finding his racing legs. He usually needs a few days before reaching a reasonable level but by making all the right splits he has proved that he is already at a very advanced level.

 

Sagan is very unlikely to get dropped in the crosswinds and so he will definitely be there at the end. He will benefit from a hard race as he is not among the very fastest and due to his excellent positioning skills, he will start his sprint from a reasonable position. Today he proved that he has the skills to possibly beat Kristoff.

 

Andrea Guardini has surprised the entire world, including himself, by his excellent riding in Qatar. The Italian has not missed a single split and this is very unusual for a rider who is usually one of the first to get dropped. In the past, we would never have mentioned him as a contender for this kind of stage but as he made the selection in stage 2, there is a big chance that he will be there again in stage 5. On paper, he is extremely fast and this means that he will have the speed to beat Kristoff.

 

Today Tom Boonen was not really in contention for the sprint but the Belgian has proved that he is riding really strong. As usual he has been the one to take the initiative in the crosswinds and he seems to be ready for the classics. It’s no surprise that he is a bit off the mark in the big bunch sprints but in a select group at the end of a hard, he is one of the best in the world. Boonen will definitely make all the splits and as he is likely to have the best team support in the finale, he will be an obvious contender.

 

Arnaud Demare was never really in a good position for today’s sprint but the Frenchman has proved that he has the speed to win. In stage 1, he was probably the fastest rider and he even sprinted with a gear problem. He didn’t make the selection in stage 2 but usually he is not too bad in the fight for position and there is a solid chance that he will be in the group that sprints for the win. Being one of the fastest riders, he is a clear contender if he is still there.

 

Things haven’t really worked out for Nacer Bouhanni yet and the Frenchman must be very frustrated by his poor start. He is clearly not in his best condition yet but he was not too far off the mark in stage 2. If the race turns out to be very selective, we doubt that his form will allow him to make it into the front group but in a bigger group, he should still be there. Being one of the fastest riders, he definitely has an outside chance.

 

The same can be said for Marcel Kittel. Today he was not feeling 100% and Giant-Alpecin decided to support Nikias Arndt. With a harder stage, the German is unlikely to be in contention for tomorrow’s sprint but if a bigger group arrives at the finish, he could still be there. At the moment, he doesn’t seem to have the condition to be up there but at this point of the season, things can quickly turn around and you can never rule out the fastest man in the world.

 

Sacha Modolo has not been much in the spotlight yet but the Italian was actually in the front group in stage 2 until he suffered a hunger knock. This indicates that his condition is good and even though his team is not very strong for this kind of racing, he could make it into the front group. If that’s the case, he has the speed to take the win.

 

The same can be said about Theo Bos who was taken out by a mechanical in stage 2. The results don’t show anything but the Dutchman actually seems to be riding really well. As usual, he has been suffering a lot from poor positioning but at the moment, he seems to be strong enough to make it into a smaller group. That will make it easier for him to avoid getting boxed in and as he is one of the fastest riders in the world, he will be a clear contender.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Alexander Kristoff

Other winner candidates: Peter Sagan, Andrea Guardini

Outsiders: Tom Boonen, Arnaud Demare, Nacer Bouhanni

Jokers: Marcel Kittel, Sacha Modolo, Theo Bos

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