Bradley Wiggins, SkyStage three will offer a rare chance to see Bradley Wiggins ride in the rainbow jersey before he moves onto the track after Paris-Roubaix, so expect him to be particularly motivated to put in a good ride. Victory on that stage also ought to set up an overall victory provided he stays attentive to the potential for crosswinds in the flat stages.
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Tom Boonen, Etixx-QuickStepBy far the most successful rider in the Tour of Qatar’s relatively brief history, Tom Boonen has not only won the overall a record four times, but has also won at least one stage in all but two editions since 2004. The introduction of a time-trial will harm his chances however, and the plethora of top sprinters riding this year may also deprive him of bonus seconds – but Boonen can go well in shorter efforts against the clock, and history suggests he’ll have better early-season form than his sprinting rivals.
Fabian Cancellara, Trek Factory RacingSince his last world time trial title back in 2010, Fabian Cancellara has fallen behind both Tony Martin and Wiggins in the pecking order. He nevertheless remains a formidable force in the discipline, and could cause havoc in the crosswinds should he both have the form and be in the mood.
Lars Boom, AstanaOverall victory at the Tour of Qatar may be more exciting a prospect for Lars Boom than it would be for some of the more established household names, especially given that he has a new team to impress. He finished second in the time-trial last year, and, as a classics specialist, ought to be able to position himself towards the front of the peloton and not get caught out in the crosswinds.
Niki Terpstra, Etixx-QuickStepLast year’s winner Niki Terpstra went on to yet bigger things in 2014 by winning Paris-Roubaix, and is widely recognised as one of the toughest riders in the peloton. He’ll probably be Etixx’s ‘plan b’ after Boonen, but could repeat last year’s success if let off the leash.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, MTN-QhubekaNorwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen is looking to get his career back on track with new team MTN-Qhubeka, having now gone over eighteen months without a win. He faces stiff competition to break that duck against such quality opposition in the bunch sprints here, but he’s capable of putting in a decent time trial to be there-or-thereabouts in the GC
Michael Hepburn, Orica-GreenEdgeDespite winning the time trial last year, Michael Hepburn finished way down on the overall having lost lots of time earlier in the crosswinds. This season, the Australian has already put in some good rides against the clock in his home races, the Tour Down Under and the Herald Sun Tour, so could be in contention to win stage three in Qatar.
Ones to Watch
Marcel Kittel, Giant-Alpecin
Much to the dismay of all the other sprinters coming to Qatar, Marcel Kittel has decided to make his debut at the race. The German started 2015 with a bang through a victory at the People’s Tour Classic, but failed to contest any of the finales in the following Tour Down Under. If he can stay in the front group, expect him to add to his tally.
Alexander Kristoff, Katusha
2014 will be a difficult season to top for Kristoff – who won Milan-San Remo, the Vattenfall Cyclassics and two stages at the Tour – but he will begin his attempt to do so in Qatar this week. He’ll have his eye on the bunch sprint finishes, and will also be seeking to build his form for the upcoming spring classics.
Peter Sagan, Tinkoff-Saxo
Returning to the Tour of Qatar for the first time since 2012 – when he finished on the podium in two stages – Peter Sagan has skipped his usual season opener at the Tour de San Luis to begin instead in the Middle-East. He should feature in the bunch sprints, and the time trial is short enough for him to possibly make the top ten too.
Nacer Bouhanni, Cofidis
Now riding for Europe Tour-level Cofidis, Bouhanni won’t come up against the rest of the world’s best sprinters as frequently as previously, so will want to impress against Kittel in the bunch sprints here.