While the peloton’s far-flung excursions to such locales as Australia (the Tour Down Under), Qatar, Oman and Malaysia (the Tour de Langkawi) offer a taste of the exotic, there is nothing quite like the sight of professional cyclists toiling over rolling hills and mud-splattered cobbles in northern Europe to make the seasoned viewer feel that the cycling season has really begun. And if the Tour Down Under marked the official start of the season for the WorldTour, this weekend’s double-header of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne heralds the start of many fans’ favourite part of the year: the spring Classics.
In its desire to expand both its geographical and commercial boundaries in recent years, cycling has never been afraid to break new ground. As virgin territories go, they don’t come any richer than Qatar, the country with both the highest GDP per capita and the highest economic growth rate of any nation on Earth. Although the Tour of Qatar does not hold WorldTour status, it will nonetheless welcome many of the pro peloton’s biggest stars to its 11th edition, with a particular emphasis on elite sprinters.
Welcome to our preview of what’s happening in the world of road cycling in February. After last month’s races in Australia (Tour Down Under), Argentina (Tour de San Luis) and France (GP La Marseillaise), the calendar continues primarily in warmer climes, with the European season still slowly rousing itself from its wintry slumber.