Russell Downing and NetApp-Endura are pushing towards the classics this week at the Tour of Qatar. Camel racing and blowing sand, Downing explained this morning, is the perfect mix.
“There’s only so much training you can do, and it was good to get started,” Downing told Cycling Weekly.
Over Downing’s right, camels trained on a track in preparation for the upcoming championship. Big Toyota 4Runners buzzed by driven by men in keffiyehs. Just 30 minutes later, the fourth stage of the Tour of Qatar began, 160 kilometres to Al Khor.
Is it the perfect preparation?
“Definitely,” Downing said.
In less than three weeks, he will line up with his German-British team to race over the cobbles and bergs of Flanders, in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. There is potential for snow, with the mercury to be around 5°.
“That’s why I’m here, to get the last final touches for the classics,” continued Downing. “A lot of people are doing the same, the last bit of prep in for the classics. It’s a totally different race to what you’ll ride all year, probably the hardest one you’ll do. If you can get through this and feel okay, then obviously you’re doing something right.”
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) won his second consecutive stage today, his 93rd career victory. Downing finished mid-pack, after crashing and suffering scrapes and bruises in the final kilometres.
Russell Downing with Sky rider Luke Rowe (right)
Downing rode the 58 kilometres south from Al Khor to Doha after the stage with many other riders. The early kilometres are important for the big classics.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad covers 200 kilometres. Downing also eyes the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix;
both races cover around 250 kilometres.
The NetApp riders hope that strong rides in the gulf stage and in Italy’s Tirreno-Adriatico stage race next month will earn them invitations to those bigger races.
Organiser of the Tour of Qatar, ASO, also runs Paris-Roubaix, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France.
“Our team is wanting to go bigger and better. This is not a bad place to put on a good show,” Downing added. “The team is waiting on the invite [for Roubaix], we have some big strong guys, Roger Kluge and other guys who want a stab at Roubaix.
“That’s the thing in Pro Conti [second division], just waiting for invitations and then at the last minute, the team will get picked. We are on call 24 hours a day, but that’s normal.”