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Starting at 12.45 CET, you can follow the circuit race in Doha live on CyclingQuotes.com/live

Photo: Sirotti

TOUR OF QATAR

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
14.02.2014 @ 12:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

André Greipel reestablished the sprinting hierarchy by taking a truly dominant win on today's stage which had the first real bunch sprint of the race. The pure sprinters will get one final chance to shine in the beautiful and spectacular finish on the Doha Corniche that is one where only the fastest riders can emerge. Starting at 12.45 CET, you can follow the stage on CyclingQuotes.com/live.

 

The course

With one exception, the road stages of the Tour of Qatar can all end in a true crosswind battle. The one exception comes on the final day. Like plenty of other stage races, the race ends with a criterium-like race in the capital, with the riders ending their stay in Qatar by doing 10 laps of a 5.7km circuit on the Doha Corniche.

 

The stage has varied a bit in length from year to year but has mostly had the same format every year since the inaugural edition in 2002. This year it will be a bit shorter than usual at just 113.5 and will again start at the Sealine Beach Resort south of the capital as it has been the case for most of the races. From there the riders will head straight north through the cities of Mesaieed and Al Wakra before reaching the final circuit after 55km and crossing the line for the first time at the 56.5km mark.

 

The riders will then start their first of 10 laps on the 5.7km circuit which is a banana-shaped one held completely on the main coastal road in the city centre. The riders will simply travel 2.6km in one direction before making a very broad U-turn and head back in the opposite direction. The road has a slight bending trend but is completely flat. The final U-turn comes 1.3km from the finish and from there the scene is set for a big bunch sprint on a very wide road with a width of 11m.

 

The wind could potentially play a role in the first half of the stage but with the circuit being less exposed, there is plenty of time to bring things back together. It will be a big surprise if the race doesn't end as a huge opportunity for the sprinters to show off their fast legs one final time. With the stage being short and really flat and the sprint taking place on a wide road with plenty of space, the pure sprinters with the highest top speed usually come to the fore. In 2013 Mark Cavendish took the spoils and he is preceded on the winners list by great sprinters like Arnaud Demare, Andrea Guardini, Francesco Chicchi, and Cavendish himself. Of course Tom Boonen has also won this stage, having crossed the line in first in both 2007 and 2008, and the stage offers a fitting end that perfectly reflects a week of fast, high-speed racing in the desert.

 

 

The weather

As said yesterday, Qatar is heading for a week with warmer and quieter weather and tomorrow will be the first really beautiful day. Again there will be plenty of sunshine from a clear sky and the temperatures are expected to reach their maximum for the week at 23 degrees at the midpoint of the day.

 

For some reason, the final day of the Tour of Qatar is always the least windy and this is again the case in 2014. There will be a moderate wind blowing from a northwestern direction, and it will be rather constant for the duration of the race.

 

This means that the riders will have a cross-headwind during the long northern run in the first part of the stage while there will be a crosswind, a cross-tailwind and a cross-headwind on different sections of the final circuit. The riders will have a crosswind for the final two kilometres of the stage, with the wind coming from the right after the final U-turn 1.4km from the line

 

The favourites

Most national tours end with a fast, flat circuit race in the capital and the Tour of Qatar is no exception. This kind of racing usually presents itself as a fantastic opportunity for the sprinters and history proves that the Doha sprint is one for the fastest of the riders.

 

If it had been a really windy day, we could see some action in the first part of the race but tomorrow we are unlikely to see any carnage. The cross-headwind will not be very strong and will put a dampener on any kind of initiative. Instead, the opening stretch will be the scene for the creation of the early breakaway and we should be in for a rather straightforward sprint stage.

 

In such a short stage, the break is usually never given too much leeway and there will be plenty of interest in setting up a sprint. Lotto Belisol will be the driving force in the chase but they are likely to get assistance from Belkin, Orica-GreenEDGE and Omega Pharma-Quick Step if it is needed, with the latter team being keen to show themselves, the golden jersey and their dominance on the beautiful Doha circuit.

 

The sprint is a well-known one and usually suits the riders with the highest top speed. At the end of a short, easy stage, most riders are fresh and this is an advantage for the pure sprinters. At the same time, the finishing straight is extremely wide and this means that it is much easier to find a way through the carnage in the finale. The risk of getting boxed in is less, making positioning less important, and so making it more a matter of having the fastest legs.

 

Today André Greipel proved what everybody knew beforehand: that those fastest legs are his. The German may have been beaten by Tom Boonen in Wednesday's sprint but that one was a very special one as it came at the end of a dramatic, hard day in the crosswind that was raced at more than 56km/h. That took the sting out of Greipel's legs and suited a hard man like Boonen.

 

Today's stage ended up being an easy, classical sprint stage and Greipel's win was a true demonstration of his superiority. When he launched his sprint, he put daylight into his rivals and Aidis Kruopis could not even stay on his wheel despite not even trying to come around the fast German.

 

At the same time, the stage proved another aspect that we also knew beforehand: that the Lotto Belisol train is the best in the world and in this field they are completely unrivalled. When Marcel Sieberg sees the flamme rouge, he launches an irresistible acceleration that always sees him hit the front with Jurgen Roelandts and Greipel on his wheel. From there, the Belgian team remains in control until Greipel decides that it is time to come off Roelandts' wheel. With Greipel both being the fastest rider and having the superior lead-out, he is the outstanding favourite to make it two in a row and reclaim his position as the sole leader of the list of winners in major UCI races.

 

Only a few riders have the top speed to match Greipel. One of those is Theo Bos who is riding his first race of the season but has had a slow start as he didn't feel good on stage 1 and crashed on stage 2. Since then he has been recovering from his injuries but showed improving condition when he made the front group in the very fast 4th stage.

 

That day the team decided to support Barry Markus but today the team decided to give their number one sprinter his chance. He did well by finishing 3rd but it was also clear that his condition is still not good enough to match Greipel's impressive speed.

 

However, tomorrow's sprint will come at the end of what should be a very easy stage and this should be in favour of the former track sprinter. At the same time, he has a very strong lead-out train at his disposal, with Jetse Bol, Barry Markus, Robert Wagner and Graeme Brown all being fully capable of going up against Lotto Belisol. In last year's Ster ZLM Toer, Bos beat Greipel, Cavendish and Kittel in a sprint and he has the speed to again deny the German champion a win.

 

Another very fast rider is Arnaud Demare who is obviously in splendid condition but has had little success in the race so far. In the first stage he missed the chance to sprint for the win and he missed the selection on stage two. Yesterday his lead-out man Mickael Delage had been left behind and today nothing went according to plan in the finale.

 

Demare is hampered by the loss of teammates David Boucher, Johan Le Bon and Matthieu Ladagnous and has a reduced team at his disposal. In a short race like tomorrow's, however, this disadvantage will be of less importance and he has a well-drilled train at his disposal. Yoann Offredo, Murilo Fischer and Delage have plenty of experience in delivering their fast finisher and Demare has a great track record in the Doha sprint. The Corniche was the scene for his first big professional win two years ago and there is no doubt that he has the speed to again come put triumphant.

 

No one has seen much from Elia Viviani in this year's Tour of Qatar, with the Italian missing the split on all the windy stages. Today he finally got his chance to sprint but he could only manage 10th in the fast finale. Viviani is very fast but is very often boxed in during the sprints. As he doesn't have his best lead-out riders at his disposal in this race, it will be mainly up to new signing Oscar Gatto to position him for the finale.

 

On this wide boulevard, however, there is less of a risk of getting boxed in and this could open the door for Viviani. As he most recently proved in his impressive sprint on stage 4 of the Tour Down Under, he has an exceptional top speed. This is the key attribute in tomorrow's stage and if he doesn't have to start his sprint from too far back, he should be in the mix.

 

Today Aidis Kruopis again proved that he is in very good condition when he finished 2nd behind Greipel. The Lithuanian has been riding really well all week and missed a big chance for a stage win on stage 2 when he punctured out of the lead group.

 

Kruopis is a very fast finisher but his main asset is probably his lead-out train that is only rivaled by Lotto and Belkin in this race. Brett Lancaster, Michael Hepburn, Leigh Howard, Jens Keukeleire and Mathew Hayman form a support team that most sprinters can only dream of. Today they managed to position Kruopis perfectly on Roelandts' wheel and Kruopis could again get the chance to start his sprint from one of the front positions. He is unlikely to be fast enough to beat Greipel but he is a very likely podium candidate.

 

Of course Tom Boonen also deserves a mention but the Belgian is unlikely to win his third stage. This kind of sprint is one for the fastest riders and Boonen is not one of those. At the same time, his lead-out train has not been working perfectly and today Andrew Fenn had to make a very late acceleration just to put Boonen into a moderately satisfying position for the sprint.

 

On the other hand, there is a lot of firepower in the Belgian team and tomorrow they will have done less work before the sprint. This will enhance Boonen's chances in the finale and he could start his sprint from a better position. However, it is no coincidence that Boonen hasn't won in Doha since 2008 and a podium spot is probably the maximum achievable.

 

Finally, we will select out joker. No one has seen much from Andrea Guardini in this race but the Italian will be extremely motivated when he takes to the start line tomorrow. In 2011, the fast Italian was the rider to come out triumphant in Doha and this is certainly no coincidence. Guardini has an incredible top speed as he proved when he beat Mark Cavendish in a direct battle in the 2012 Vuelta. He rarely gets the chance to show it as he is usually badly positioned or has lost his top speed due to the toughness of the course.

 

Tomorrow's race is very easy and is all about being fast. That suits Guardini very well and he will be further benefited by the smaller risk of getting boxed in. During the race, he has given small indications that his condition is actually rather good. If he manages to position himself reasonably for the sprint, it could be his time to shine.

 

CyclingQuotes' stage winner pick: André Greipel

Other winner candidates: Theo Bos, Arnaud Demare

Outsiders: Elia Viviani, Aidis Kruopis, Tom Boonen

Joker: Andrea Guardini

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