A quick glance of the past winners of the Tour of Qatar (February 8-13) make clear how this race has been something of a procession for sprinters: Tom Boonen holds the record number of overall wins with four, while fellow fastmen Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw and Robbie Hunter have all won here too.
But the race gained a new dimension last year with the introduction of an 11km individual time trial to replace the team time trial, that had up until then been a regular feature in the race. Consequently, this edition has attracted a number of specialists against the clock.
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Chief among them is Bradley Wiggins. This will be the first race the Team Sky rider has ridden in since winning the time trial World Championship last year, and he’ll get to adorn the rainbow jersey for the first in stage three. Victory in this stage looks a very real possibility for Wiggins, and ought to put him in contention for the overall win too, should he use this race as more than simply a warm-up for the classics.
Aside from the time trial, the main factor likely to shape the GC are the vicious crosswinds produced in the desert. The open, exposed much of the race is spent on means that wind often plays a prominent role in the race; last year, for instance, Niki Terpstra laid the foundations for his overall victory on the opening day’s racing by taking advantage of a crosswind-depleted peloton to escape and win the stage.
Whereas that stage travelled westwards, this year’s opening day sees the peloton go from Dukhan on the west coast to Sealine Beach on the east coast, in a stage that could yet again, depending on the severity and direction of the wind, be disrupted by crosswinds. After a long 195km trek northwards up to Al Khor Corniche for a flat stage two, the riders then take on the crucial 10.9km time-trial in Lusail.
Another three flat stages follow, starting with a journey back southwards from Al Thakhira to Mesaieed that retraces the steps of stage two in reverse. A longer transfer than usual sees the race reach its northernmost point for stage five, which starts at Al Zubara Fort and finishes at Madinat ash-Shamal, close to the northern coast, and the race comes to a close the day after with, as usual, a circuit and a sprint in the capital Doha.
Tour of Qatar 2015: Stages
Stage one, Sunday February 8, Dukhan to Sealine Beach, 136km
Stage two, Monday February 9, Al Wakra to Al Khor Corniche, 194km
Stage three, Tuesday February 10, Lusail Circuit, 10.9km ITT
Stage four, Wednesday February 11, Al Thakhira to Mesaieed, 165km
Stage five, Thursday February 12, Al Zubarah Fort to Madinat Al Shamal, 153km
Stage six, Friday February 13, Sealine Beach Resort to Doha Corniche, 113km
Tour of Qatar 2015: Teams
Trek Factory Racing
Tour of Qatar 2015: TV coverage
The Tour of Qatar will be aired live on British Eurosport, with daily highlights.
Tour of Qatar: Recent winners
2014: Niki Terpstra
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
Tour of Qatar: Last year’s top ten (2014)
1. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-Quickstep in 15-53-36
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep at 17 secs
3. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 20 secs
4. Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky at 37 secs
5. Michael Morkov (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo at 48 secs
6. Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Lotto-Belisol at 56 secs
7. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep at 57 secs
8. Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep at 1-05
9. Andy Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-Quickstep at 1-18
10. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol at 1-23