Words: Stephen Puddicombe
February has become Middle-East month for the peloton, who from Sunday 9 to Friday 14 will take part in the Tour of Qatar.
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Now into its 13th edition, it is the most firmly established of the Middle-Eastern races, although more have popped up in recent years: the Tour of Oman that follows it began in 2012, and the Dubai Tour was introduced this year to precede it.
The organisers have altered the formula for the 2014 edition slightly. The five flat stages are interrupted by a 10.9-kilometre individual time trial on the third day of racing, rather than previous years’ team time trial. Spice is added to the proceedings thanks to the vicious winds that are liable make the race difficult to control and potentially create time gaps.
If February is the month of Middle-Eastern races, then March is when the spring classics season begins, and many classics specialists will be seeking to build their form in Qatar. Included are Fabian Cancellara and four time winner Tom Boonen, who missed last year’s race with an injury. Boonen’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mate Mark Cavendish took the honours in his absence, but Cavendish is not included this year.
Team Sky are not sending their A-team, which gives the likes of Ian Stannard a chance to relinquish domestique duty and ride for their own personal glory. With the first monument of the season, Milan-San-Remo, six weeks away, now is the time to start catching the eye.
There are four British riders on the provisional start list: Luke Rowe (Sky), Ian Stannard (Sky), Andy Fenn (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Scott Thwaites (NetApp-Endura).
Ones to watch
Easily the rider with most past success at the Tour of Qatar, having won 20 stages, six points classification jerseys, and the overall four times. Though the time trial doesn’t seems to suit his skill set, he won an 11.3k effort en route to overall victory in 2012.
What could be a season of titanic duals between the Swiss former world time trial champion and Boonen could begin on the roads of Qatar. If he has any form, he should win both the time trial and the overall.
Fresh from his two stage wins in the season’s first big meet at the Tour down Under, the German has four more flat stages to potentially exert his dominance in. He’s the best sprinter in the field, and should win a handful.
The Brit’s huge frame and big engine make him the perfect rider to combat the windy and flat conditions in Qatar. Last year was the 26-year-old’s best to date; can he improve again in 2014?
Tour of Qatar 2014: Stages
Sunday February 9, Stage one, Al Wakra to Dukhan Beach, 135.5km
Monday February 10, Stage two, Camel Race Track to Al Khor Corniche, 160.5km
Tuesday February 11, Stage three, Lusail Circuit to Lusail Circuit, 10.9km ITT
Wednesday February 12, Stage four, Dukhan to Mesaieed, 135km
Thursday February 13, Stage five, Al Zubara Fort to Madinat Al Shamal, 159km
Friday February 14, Stage six, Sealine Beach Resort to Doha Corniche, 113.5km
Tour of Qatar 2014: Reports and photo galleries
Tour of Qatar stage four: Fastest road race in history?
Boonen not surprised to beat Greipel in sprint
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Boonen wins Tour of Qatar stage four
In the Tour of Qatar hot seat with Michael Hepburn
Hepburn wins Tour of Qatar stage three
Stage two: Tom Boonen wins, Terpstra maintains lead|
Andy Fenn in Omega Pharma-QuickStep ‘A-team’ in Tour of Qatar
Sam Bennett: Neo pro nerves at the Tour of Qatar
Stage one: Niki Terpstra wins from escape group
Stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour of Qatar 2014: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
Trek Factory Racing
Tour of Qatar: Last year’s top 10 (2013)
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 15-55-20
2. Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing at 25 secs
3. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing at 26 secs
4. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at 30 secs
5. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky at 32 secs
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 32 secs
7. Michael Schar (Swi) BMC Racing at 35 secs
8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky at 39 secs
9. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky at 40 secs
10. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 40 secs
Tour of Qatar: Previous winners
2013: Mark Cavendish
2012: Tom Boonen
2011: Mark Renshaw
2010: Wouter Mol
2009: Tom Boonen
2008: Tom Boonen
2007: Wilfried Cretskens
2006: Tom Boonen
2005: Lars Michaelsen
2004: Robert Hunter
2003: Alberto Lodo
2002: Thorsten Wilhelms
Tour of Qatar 2013: Preview and coverage