Tour of Qatar preview

ToQ2013logoThe 12th edition of the ASO-organised Tour of Qatar runs from Sunday 3rd to Friday 8th February. 18 teams – 12 of them ProTeams – each with eight riders, will be relishing relaxing in the unaccustomed lap of five-star Ritz Carlton luxury [makes a change from the Ibis – Ed], after a day spent battling headwinds and desolate sand-swept roads.  They’ll be competing for three jerseys – gold (leader), silver (points), pearl white (best young) and 103,375 Euros total prize money, of which Euros 10,000 goes to the victor.

What kind of race is it?

Riders will cover 732.5km over six sprinter-friendly pan-flat stages, one of which is a team time trial. The race is ranked 2.HC on the UCI Asia Circuit. The two indicates that it’s a stage race while the HC shows it’s one of the top-ranked races. Most of the riders will be using it to test out the effectiveness of their winter training before embarking on their European seasons.

The most recent winners of the Tom Boonen invitational sprint fest event are:

2008: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)

2009: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)

2010: Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil)

2011: Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad)

2012: Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

What happened last year?

Tom Boonen looking good in gold (image courtesy of official race site)

Tom Boonen looking good in gold (image courtesy of official race site)

Sprinters love to win stages and, in particular, get one up on the other sprinters in the all-important early psychological battles. Round one went to Tornado Tom (and his magnificent Boonens) who claimed his fourth Tour of Qatar title.

Having seized the gold leader’s jersey on day one with a powerful, early surge to the finish, he and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team mates then kept, among others, runner-up Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) and third-placed Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) at bay. Garmin just pipped OPQS in the team time trial while rainbow jersey-wearing world champion Mark Cavendish (Sky) took his first win of the season on stage three, closely followed by his second on stage five. Boonen also won the wind-torn stage four which frankly just consolidated his lead. The final stage six was won by 20-year old neo-pro Arnaud Demare (FDJ), the under-23 world champion from Copenhagen, who notched up his maiden professional victory.

Tom also took the points jersey, his team won the best team prize and Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Barracuda) was the best young rider. Final score 3-2 to Tom which, as we already know, set him up rather nicely for the subsequent cobbled Classics.

1. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 15:42:14

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) +0:28

3. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) +0:33

4. Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:34

5. Tom Veelers (1t4i) +1:00

6. Mark Cavendish (Sky) +1:05

7. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) +1:06

8. Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Barracuda) +1:09

9. Aidis Kruopis (GreenEDGE) +1:10

10. Adam Blythe (BMC) +1:14

Our full 2012 race review is here.

This year’s race

Route Map Tour of Qatar 2013 (image courtesy of official race site)

Route Map Tour of Qatar 2013 (image courtesy of official race site)

The stages follow a not dissimilar format to previous years. Five sprint-friendly stages that, wind permitting, will end in bunch sprints and one team time trial that won’t! The main hazard will, as always, be the wind which sweeps in across the low-lying sand wreaking havoc among the unwary. It might just be my imagination but there look to be more spectator-friendly circuits on this year’s map.

After the riders’ recent brush Down Under with cuddly koalas and slippery snakes, expect to see birds of prey, camels, lots of portly gentlemen in flowing white robes accompanying demurely clad veiled ladies who’ll be hiding their disappointment at Tom’s non-appearance.

Who to watch

Will Cav end the Tour in gold?(Image courtesy of OPQS)

Will Cav end the Tour in gold?
(Image courtesy of OPQS)

Cavendish is reprising his role as Tom’s substitute at the Tour de San Luis here in Qatar and could well add to his tally of overall stage race wins [that currently stands at one which, as Tim likes to remind us endlessly, is the same total as Andy Schleck  – Ed]. Other teams will be looking to spoil OPQS’ party, however. Indeed, there’s a star-studded cast hoping to play the role of party-pooper from the in-form Australians, those who have recently changed teams and are looking to score early on, to those looking to do a spot of giant-killing either here or in the cobbled Classics and semi-Classics.

Frankly, the roll of honour could include anyone. However, I would expect to see Heinrich Haussler (IAM), John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky), Andrea Guardini (Astana), Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) making Cavendish work hard for stage wins and the overall.

But let’s not forget those winds sweeping across the sand dunes. The overall could go to someone who knows how to work an echelon such as Miss Kitty’s Beloved Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil) or Greg Van Avermaet (BMC). The only thing that’s certain is that Tom won’t be adding to his tally.

Race details

February 3rd: Stage 1 – Katara Cultural Village to Dukhan Beach, 142.5km

February 4th: Stage 2 – Al Rufaa Street, 14km team time trial

February 5th: Stage 3 – Al Wakhra to Mesaieed, 143km

February 6th: Stage 4 – Camel Race Track to Al Khor Corniche, 160km

February 7th: Stage 5 – Al Zubara Fort to Madinat Al Shamal, 154km

February 8th: Stage 6 – Sealine Beach Resort to Doha Corniche, 116km

The Tour of Qatar starts on Sunday 3rd February and ends on Friday 8th. For live video and audio coverage check cyclingfans.com.

Link: Official website

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