Kirsten Wild's absence opens up the highest-ranked women's race of the season to date.
The seventh edition of the Ladies Tour of Qatar, the highest-ranking UCI stage race of the women’s calendar to date this season, gets underway tomorrow amid a search for a new champion.
Dutch rider Kirsten Wild has won four of the previous six editions of the race, and is one of only two women – alongside Giorgia Bronzini, who is here for her Wiggle-Honda team – who have won multiple stages of the race.
But her attentions on the track mean that Wild is not competing in the four-day event. Her departure from the Giant-Shimano squad for 2015 also means that Lucy Garner will compete in the event for the first time.
“I should get more opportunities to lead the team now Kirsten has left,” said Garner. “It [the Tour of Qatar] is a great race for sprinters, so I really want to be going OK!”
John Lelangue, the former BMC sports director who now works for the Qatar Cycling Federation (QCF), described Wild’s absence as making the race “a little bit different.”
He added: “We are on the edge of a pretty open race. The wind is strong, it will surely make the difference.”
The race is the latest in a series of world-class sporting events to take place in the Arabic country. The World Handball Championships ended late on Sunday night – around the same time that many of the women’s teams and riders arrived in Doha following flights from Paris and Brussels – and the men’s race begins on Saturday.
Qatar has already been chosen to host the football World Cup in 2022, not to mention next year’s road World Championships that will be launched on Saturday night, and welcoming such events fits in with the country’s biggest sporting desire: being awarded the Olympic Games.
“In Qatar, we aim to promote all sports, especially those in the Summer Olympics,” said Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani, president of the QCF.
Nonetheless, as well as crowing a new race champion, he also believes the event has a significant impact on finding those local female cycling stars.
“We’re a relatively new sport in Qatar, even for men,” Ali Al Thani added. “And here, women participate in a number of sports; we’ve got a good shooting team, [as well as those in] handball and basketball.
“When we started the men’s Tour of Qatar, we said a women’s race would follow. It’s our aim to promote the sport of cycling in Qatar and the world, and it’s important to have a women’s discipline.
“We are talking about serving a community, the whole community who lives here and participates here.”
Without detailing female membership figures for the association, he added: “We have a lot of teams with both men and women; women are allowed an encouraged to ride. Some teams have 60 riders, they have the team kit, they ride on the weekends together.”
Ladies Tour of Qatar 2015: stages
Stage 1, February 3: Museum of Islamic Art – Dukhan Beach (98.5km)
Stage 2, February 4: Al Zubarah Fort – Madinat Al Shamal (112.5km)
Stage 3, February 5: Souq Waqif – Al Khor Corniche (93.5km)
Stage 4, February 6: Sealine Beach Resort – Doha Corniche (101.5km)
Ladies Tour of Qatar 2015: the Brits
Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans), Lucy Garner (Liv-Plantur), Sharon Laws (Bigla Pro Cycling Team).