Tour of Qatar preview: battle in the desert
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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tour of Qatar preview: battle in the desert

by Reno Van Dael at 4:31 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour of Qatar
Cavendish, Gilbert and Hushovd headline field

Tour of QatarStarting today, the Tour of Qatar signals the start of the season for many Classics riders and sprinters whose aims lie in the first few months of the season. The flat course, mild temperature and windy conditions make an ideal preparation for a build up to the Classics season, which starts with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on February 25th.

The star-filled line up includes world champion Mark Cavendish (Team Sky), Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing Team), Filippo Pozzato and Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda), Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha), Peter Sagan (Liquigas), Tom Boonen (Omega-Pharma Quick Step), John Degenkolb (Team 1T4I), Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) and last year's winner Mark Renshaw (Rabobank).

Originally sceduled to race, Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) unfortunately had to cancel his participation as he fell ill following the team presentation a few days ago. His role as team leader will be replaced by Greg Henderson, who changed from Team Sky to Lotto-Belisol during the off season.

A change this year is the inclusion of a team trial trial of 11.3 km, to be raced on Monday. It will play an important role in the final classification of the race that is now categorised as 2.HC, an upgrade from the 2.1 status that is had in previous years.

In the standard road stages, there are bonus seconds up for grabs at the intermediate sprints (3", 2" and 1") and on the finish line (10", 6" and 4").

Racing in a desert adds an extra element to the fight for the overall victory. The heavy winds expected in Qatar is bound to create echelons and thus gaps between riders in the first and following groups may be expected on some stages. If anything, the riders will face a week of hard racing.

All eyes will be on Mark Cavendish, who'll be showing his rainbow jersey in full glory, marking this the first race for his new team, Team Sky. A man to rival him for the stages and overall is his former team mate, and last year's winner of the race, Mark Renshaw.

“It's going to be the first time I get to race against Cavendish,” Renshaw told the Sydney Morning Herald this week. “It's his first race of the year. And one of the most beautiful things to do is come out in the world champion's jersey and win straight away. So I think we'll see him in good form. He'll be hard to beat if he's in good shape. But it wouldn't surprise me if one day I beat him. He's a great rider, the fastest. I've said that all along. The goal is to catch him off-guard. I'd love to.”

Cavendish was ill and spent most of yesterday in bed, leading to question marks over his participation. However he felt well enough today to start, getting his 2012 season underway. He may be below par for a day or two, but should become stronger as the race goes on.

Tour of Qatar 2012:

Feb 5, stage 1: Barzan Towers to Doha Golf Club, 142.5 km
Feb 6, stage 2: Lusail team time trial, 11.3 km
Feb 7, stage 3: Dukhan to Al Gharafa Stadium, 146.5 km
Feb 8, stage 4: Al Thakhira to Madinat Al Shamal, 144 km
Feb 9, stage 5: Camel Race Track to Al Khor Corniche, 160 km
Feb 10, stage 6: Sealine Beach Resort to Doha Corniche, 120 km



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