For a peloton in search of warm weather racing, there is nowhere better than the Arabian Peninsula. Buckle up for a whizz through the Tours of Dubai, Qatar and Oman.
A is for ArgoSunGod
Let’s start at the very beginning with a VeloVoice favourite. Marcel Kittel opens his season at the Tour of Dubai for new team Etixx-Quick Step and will be vying with ex-Quickstepper Mark Cavendish, now with Dimension Data. If Skittles gets close to the three wins and the points jersey from his 2014 appearance, we’ll all heave a huge sigh of relief.
B is for Boonen
With 22 stage wins and four overall victories (2006, 2008, 2009, 2012), Tom and his Magnificent Boonens is the ‘most winningest’ desert rider and can quite rightly lay claim to the title of Mr Qatar.
C is for Camels
The Tour Down Under might have cute joeys and koalas, but come on! Who can resist a Lawrence of Arabia moment? The Velvet Samurai couldn’t at last year’s Tour of Abu Dhabi. Gauntlet thrown down …
… and picked up by Claudia Cretti!
D is for Dubai
The Dubai Tour is the baby of the desert triptych and it’s evolving all the time. The inaugural race was won by the great falconer, That Boy Phinney, on a parcours almost tailor-made for him. The Manx Missile took top honours last year and, with a largely flattish course, the stage looks set for another win by a fastman.
E is for Echelons
Flat desert landscape + howling winds = all the echelon practice you could desire. As Chris Juul Jensen explains in his blog post, it’s dog eat dog on the Qatari roads and that’s exactly why the start list at the Tour of Qatar is brimming with Spring Classics hopefuls. It also explains why I adore this race.
F is for Flying Mattress
In the most bizarre accident of 2014, poor Matti Breschel got a foam mattress caught in his front wheel while speeding downhill back to the hotel in Oman. It certainly wasn’t a soft landing and we don’t want a repeat of that, thank you very much.
G is for Green Mountain
The Jabal Al Akhdar is the iconic mountain-top finish at the Tour of Oman. Lasting 5.6km at an average gradient of 10%, it’s a big test and a chance to lay down an early season marker for the GC guys. Chris Froome has taken victory here in 2014, Joaquim Rodriguez in 2013, and Vincenzo Nibali in 2012.
Here’s the podium in 2013 (with #lepetit Kenny Elissonde).
H is for Hatta Dam
Dubai might not be able to magic up mountains, but they do have the Hatta Dam finish. Teeth gritted, mouth wide open – who can forget The Mighty Degs going ballistic on this wall of a climb on Stage 3 of last year’s race. Enjoy Eurosport’s Rob Hatch bring him home again.
I is for Island
The artificial island Palm Jumeirah off the Dubai coast makes a stunning backdrop to a stage finish. The fact the peloton have to go through a tunnel at high speed to get there adds that frisson of danger – let’s hope it all works to plan.
J is for jersey
The Tour of Qatar wins the best jersey competition, I just love the detailing at the neck.
K is for Katusha’s Kristoff
The Norwegian powerhouse kicked off his 2015 season with a dominant display in Qatar and Oman. This year, he’ll be donning the new maroon ‘Big K’ skinsuit and hoping for more of the same.
L is for Lizzie
It’s not just the men battling the winds in Qatar, the women kick ass too! The Ladies Tour of Qatar kicks off today (Tuesday 2nd Feb). Last year, the Boels-Dolmans team won three of the four stages, with Lizzie Armitstead herself taking two stages and the overall title on her way to the rainbow jersey.
M is for Merckx
You really can’t talk about races in this region without mentioning Eddy Merckx. He’s a man of many roles: organiser, co-owner and man of influence; the Cannibal has been instrumental in setting up all three tours in one way or another.
Header image: Niki Terpstra and Tom Boonen at the start of stage five of the 2014 Tour of Qatar. (Photo by Bryn Lennon – Velo/Getty Images)