The 10th Tour of Qatar gets underway in Doha on Sunday with a 2km prologue time trial. When it comes to races against the watch, world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) starts as the favourite but he may face stiff competition over the short course from riders who have already made their season debut.
One man who will be looking to take the Swiss rider's scalp in Sunday’s short test will be Australian champion Jack Bobridge (Garmin-Cervélo). Fresh from breaking Chris Boardman’s 15-year-old world individual pursuit record last week, Bobridge is clearly in exceptional form. There is a palpable buzz surrounding the Australian’s chances in Doha this weekend, exemplified by the fact that L’Équipe’s photographer was commissioned to follow Bobridge on his training ride on the eve of the race.
Bobridge’s Garmin-Cervélo team will be looking to set down a marker ahead of the spring classics. With the merging of Cervélo TestTeam and Garmin-Transitions’ classics squads, Heinrich Haussler reckons his team is the best in the business. With the likes of Leopard Trek and Quick Step also in Qatar, the six-day tour will be an early opportunity to score some important psychological points before the spring classics.
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) endured a difficult season in 2010, as a knee injury curtailed his season. But the Belgian has arrived in Doha looking fit and lean after a long winter of rehabilitation and training. A mainstay of the race over the course of its history, Boonen will be looking to get back to winning ways on familiar roads this week.
The Belgian is not the only fast man with his eyes on stage wins this week of course. Italian sprint duo Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Neri) and Daniel Bennati (Leopard Trek) will also be eyeing victory, but Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) appears to be the man to beat.
After a troubled start to last season, Cavendish is fit, motivated and bullish about his chances as he begins his 2011 campaign. “It’s a silly question to ask if I’m going to be ahead of myself compared to last year,” Cavendish told Cyclingnews. “I’m good, I’m looking forward to it.” We’ve all been warned…
Click here to see Cyclingnews’ exclusive gallery as the peloton arrives in Qatar.
Numerous riders turned up for the first race in Mallorca wearing radios, sparking a stand-off between race judges, the riders and their teams. The start of the race was disrupted.
Radios were banned last season in lower-category UCI events at a 1.2 and 2.2 level (one-day and stage race, respectively), and many national federations extended the prohibition to national-level races.
The UCI will allow radios to be used in WorldTour races in 2011 but the ban is already in force this year for races ranked 1.HC/2.HC and below. This has angered the AIGCP and many teams and riders.
Last week the CPA wrote an open letter to the head of the UCI, Pat McQuaid, but this new step is the first time the entire peloton has acted in a collective manner.
A statement from the AIGCP board of directors read:
“Today the AIGCP organized various protests regarding the ban of radio communication. While we regret that action was required, we feel that our collaborative action was our last resort.”
“The radio ban is one rule that we disagree with, it is only part of the greater issue. The AIGCP takes great issue with the fact that the legislation governing cycling is decided upon without sufficient input from the teams, and with zero vote when new rules come to a final decision in the UCI management committee.”
“Teams represent the largest segment in terms of revenue and employees in professional cycling. We contribute over €5M to the UCI annually in licensing fees and anti-doping contributions. We feel that we should be represented accordingly.”
“It is not the desire of the teams to be disruptive or negative. However, we do need to be strong and unified until we garner the correct representation in the governance of our sport.”
“We will not stand for rules being imposed on us without appropriate representation. As the largest shareholder in professional cycling, we ask for nothing more than to be a part of democratic governance.”
Cyclingnews understands that similar protests may occur at the Tour of Qatar, which also starts on Sunday.
Video: Dutchman uses power and speed to dominate on technical circuit
Lars Boom (Rabobank) took the first golden jersey of the Tour of Qatar in Doha on Sunday with a masterful display of bike handling over the cobblestones streets of the Cultural Village overlooking the Doha skyline. The Dutchman explained after the race that the twisting layout of the prologue circuit was ideally suited to his capabilities.
"If it was 2.5km out and back course, it wouldn't have been good for me, but the corners and the acceleration after the corners were very good for me, it helped a lot," Boom told Cyclingnews before climbing onto the podium to pull on the race leader’s golden jersey.
Boom took his fifth consecutive Dutch cyclo-cross championship in January and made full use of those bike-handling skills to put four seconds into world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek). While Boom was pleased to beat the rainbow jersey into second place, he was keen to keep his achievement in perspective.
"I'm happy that I beat Cancellara. Of course it's special to beat the world champion in a time trial, but winning here is more special for me than for him maybe. It was only 2.5km,” he said.
Boom also explained that having ridden over the course five or six times in the morning, he realised that he needed to run a lower tyre pressure than normal in order to counteract the effects of the cobbles.
With a 10-second time bonus on offer to Monday's stage winner, along with three-second time bonuses up for grabs at the two intermediate sprints, Boom is aware that his lead is precarious.
"I'm only four seconds in front of Cancellara and five ahead of Veelers," he warned, with Tom Boonen (Quick Step) just a further second behind.
However, Boom believes that his Rabobank team have a number of different cards to play at the Tour of Qatar and he is confident that his squad will cope well with the exposed roads and windy conditions that so often characterise the race.
"The other guys on the team rode pretty well too," he said. "[Maarten] Wynants made the top 10 too, and a lot of the other guys went well. I think tomorrow will bring a lot of wind so we will try to defend the jersey."
Tensions between the professional teams and the UCI over the ban on team/rider radio communications reached new heights today as the riders of the Trofeo Palma Mallorca defied the governing body's rules and wore their race radios during the race.
The UCI commissaires refused to officiate the race and even threatened to cancel the event. The race did eventually go on without the UCI officials, and Garmin-Cervélo's victory by Tyler Farrar over Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) and Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) will not be entered into the UCI's record books.
Farrar and his team manager Jonathan Vaughters said that the sacrifice of the result is worth it to make the point to the UCI that riders opinions should be respected.
"We just want to make a point so the UCI will sit down and come up with a mutually beneficial solution to this," said Vaughters. "It's not that we're trying to wreck races. We're going to race - as we did today. We had a great race, there just weren't any UCI commissaires there, and that wasn't our decision."
"I think today was an important moment in cycling," Farrar said. "I've said all along that I feel race radios are important, not only tactically but also for safety reasons. However, just as important is the riders and teams standing up for themselves and having their voices heard. We are the ones who make this sport and we deserve to have a say in the direction it takes."
Vaughters agreed, saying, "We're the team that's making the biggest sacrifice in this because we won the race - Tyler was a worthy winner today - I consider it a win in my book. This is something that has to happen. The teams are not represented appropriately in the governance of cycling.
"That has to change if we want to become a truly professional sport."
Vaughters is also president of the teams association, the AIGCP, which announced today that today's stand-off will not be repeated for the rest of the Challenge Mallorca events.
"The UCI threatened the organisers and teams to cancel the race, would the teams continue to use radio communication. Letting common sense prevail and out of respect for the organizer, sponsors and especially the fans of the Challenge Mallorca, the AIGCP will ask that all teams remove the radios for the remainder of Challenge Mallorca."
But Vaughters said that while the protests will not continue in Mallorca, there are other venues where they can and will take similar action should the UCI not listen to their demands and open a dialogue about the issue.
"There are plenty of 1.HC races where we could take action. The point is, we did it in a way that we felt was the most productive and least damaging to cycling. It sends a signal that all the riders wanted to do this, all the team directors participated: even Cofidis [whose manager Eric Boyer had supported the radio ban -ed.] participated.
"I think it sends a strong signal of the unity of the teams at this point in time, the unity and strength of the AIGCP. We just want to sit down with the UCI and come to a mutually beneficial solution to this."
The more broader concern for Vaughters and the rest of the teams and riders is the lack of representation in the sport when the rules are enacted.
"We were not part of the decision [to ban radios], we had no vote in the UCI management or road committee when that was put through. Therefore it is a decision about something that affects our work that's being imposed on us without any voting capacity on our part.
"Most great nations or even publicly owned companies have systems that represent different stakeholders. Perhaps the UCI board of directors should be composed on representative from riders, organizers, and teams," Vaughters suggested, "or at least the wing of the UCI that governs the professional leg of the sport."
Bauer recruits development riders from the nation’s junior hockey league
Canada's first UCI Professional Continental outfit SpiderTech p/b C10 was officially launched at the iconic Hockey Hall of Fame located in Toronto,Canada. Directeur Sportif Steve Bauer, a former hockey player himself, introduced his 17-man roster and announced a new recruitment program that will scout cycling talent from the nation's junior hockey league.
In the Hockey Hall of Fame's Molson Theatre, Bauer opened his presentation in memory of his first yellow jersey earned, and wore for five stages, at the 1988 Tour de France. He went on to wear the yellow jersey again at the 1990 Tour where he lead the race for nine consecutive stages. The story was symbolic of his drive to develop Canada's professional cyclists into future Tour de France contenders.
"We've continued our progress in recruiting the best Canadian talent and that has always been our main mandate to provide opportunities for Canadians," said Bauer who started the team four years ago as Planet Energy.
"And why shouldn't we? At least at the level we are now, I feel comfortable going forward with the group of guys that we have and giving them every chance to make progress in their careers and potentially make ProTour in the future," he added.
The 2011 roster includes Svein Tuft, who won the silver medal at the 2008 UCI World Time Trial Championships, Guillaume Boivin, bronze medallist at the 2010 UCI World Road Championships and Zach Bell, silver medallist at the 2009 UCI Track World-Cup. The rest of the team includes Canadian National Champion Will Routley, Mark Batty, Bruno Langlois, François Parisien, Lucas Euser, Ryan Anderson, Hugo Houle, Pat McCarty, Martin Gilbert, Keven Lacombe, Andrew Randell, Ryan Roth, David Boily and Flavio
"There are men on our team that have been on the ProTour like Svein, McCarty and Euser," Bauer said. "A guy like Boiley and Boivin will certainly get to the ProTour eventually, either with us or with another team. We have guys in our group that will make the grade, no question, and eventually, through time, we want more Canadians to join in."
"If the team progresses quickly we have to ensure that it is competitive and will have to bring in international talent," he added. "Right now, we feel comfortable going forward to the next level with the team we have now."
SpiderTech p/b C10 will kick off its season at several European stage races to prepare its riders for the Amgen Tour of California in May. "It is the number one focus for the first half of the season," Bauer said.
"It's in our market and it draws the most attention to all of the enthusiasts who follow the team because it is close to home and it has a great reputation. The competition is at a very high level and it has all the elements for us to focus on it as our number one goal."
Bauer outlined his partnership and alliances between Canada's top leading corporations that are on board to help bring SpiderTech p/b C10 to the highest level of professional racing. Those companies include Blackberry, NRS Brakes, Pinetree Capital, Planet Energy and Saputo, among others.
"C10 is our Canadian alliance of corporate sponsorship and we are going to position it as strength in the alliance and building the base of financial foundation," Bauer said. "That is why we call it C10 and that is why we now named the team powered by C10."
Following the team presentation, guests of the evening mingled in the Hockey Hall of Fame's Great Hall, an old bank restored as a showcase for the Stanley Cup, Hart Memorial Trophy and many of the National Hockey League (NHL) silverware.
Tapping into Canadian hockey talent
As the evening proceeded, Bauer announced a new recruitment program for his two junior development programs SpiderTech p/b PowerWatts in Quebec and Planet Energy p/b SpiderTech in Ontario. The program will scout potential cyclists from the nation's 5000 member junior A, AA and AAA hockey program.
"Obviously Canada is hockey and hockey is Canada, but the amount that are going to make the NHL are few," Bauer said. "We want to turn them on to cycling, even for cross training in the summer months because it's perfect to keep in shape for the start of the hockey season."
"A lot of our best guys on this team come from playing hockey," he added.
"I played hockey and so did Boivin, Lacombe and others. We are going to invite these players to test, recruit and make some noise that we have our next Tour de France team right here in Canada."
Bauer will start recruiting athletes from the junior hockey league this summer. Athletes will be invited to undergo fitness testing at the PowerWatts clinic in Montreal along with several other designated clinics across the country.
"They will take a 20 minute time trial test, because with cycling you can test real performance over a period of time," Bauer said. "It's not that difficult to identify guys with horsepower and the next step is to turn them onto the sport. It's not an easy task."
"The goal would be to recruit several athletes a year that we can put into our development cycling program," he added. "If we have five good ones, who knows maybe we have a future gem."
Alex Dowsett (Sky) enjoyed a fine start to his professional career at the prologue of the Tour of Qatar in Doha. The Englishman rode to fifth place and took possession of the white jersey for best young rider ahead of the opening road stage of the event.
With a palmares that includes the European Under 23 time trial championship and a time trial silver medal from the Commonwealth Games, Dowsett has a strong pedigree against the watch, but he admitted that he did not expect to beat the highly-fancied Jack Bobridge (Garmin-Cervélo) to the race's first white jersey. Bobridge had arrived in Doha just days after breaking Chris Boardman's 1996 world pursuit record.
"It never crossed my mind, I just thought there was a chance I might go well as I'd done well in short time trials last year," Dowsett told Cyclingnews after receiving his white jersey. "It was actually Kurt-Asle Arvesen who kept saying to me I could do well here. I didn't even know there was a young rider's jersey until last night and then I thought with Bobridge here it would be out of the question."
Dowsett was joined in the top five of the stage by teammate Juan Antonio Flecha, and both men finished within six seconds of winner Lars Boom (Rabobank). While Dowsett was pleased with his own achievement, he was quick to stress that his performance was very much a collective effort and he paid tribute to the team spirit he has encountered at Sky.
"It's nice, there's no competitiveness within the team," he said. "In a time trial, everybody wants to do a good ride, but in some teams it's quite easy to hold back things that you think about the course that might benefit someone, but here everybody tells everybody everything and you just collect that knowledge together.
"We have two riders in the top five as a result of that. There were some riders who were better suited to this sort of short technical prologue than others, so it just shows what Team Sky is about."
Like stage winner Lars Boom, Dowsett made concessions to the technical nature of the cobbled course in choosing his equipment for Sunday's time trial.
"First thing we figured this morning was that it wasn't a course for real high tyre pressures," he said. "We went out with deep section wheels first as well, but we all realised that perhaps there were only maybe a couple of sections where being aero was an advantage so bike-handling was far more important, exit speeds from corners, everything."
One of those corners was to cost Dowsett some time during his effort, but he acknowledged that almost every rider in the field would have encountered similar difficulties.
"At the halfway point I was on a similar time to Flecha, and then I stuffed up one of the final corners," he told Cyclingnews. "I overshot it and had to slam my brakes on the exit and that potentially cost me a second or two.
"But I'm sure it's the sort of course where everyone is going to be able to say 'I messed up this bit' or 'I messed up that bit.'"
Dowsett begins Monday's stage with a three-second advantage over Roger Kluge in the young riders' classification, but he said it was too early to say if he would attempt to defend his jersey.
"I haven't the foggiest," he said. "We'll just sit down tonight and see what Steven De Jongh has to say about it."
Matt Brammeier started his HTC-Highroad career on the right footing with a 10th place finish in the prologue of the Tour of Qatar. The Irish champion was one of the day's early starters and he successfully negotiated the technical cobbled course to finish just nine seconds behind the winner, Lars Boom (Rabobank).
"At first I thought it was a bit crazy, but it was better than riding down the main road," Brammeier told Cyclingnews shortly after finishing. "It was really good actually. Judging the corners right makes it that bit more exciting."
Brammeier arrives at HTC-Highroad after two solid seasons with the An Post-Sean Kelly team and he has been impressed by his ProTeam experience to date.
"It's one of the biggest teams in the world," he said. "Everything you do is done right and done perfectly. It's awesome, hopefully it'll help me move on another step this year."
A versatile rider with a wealth of experience on the road and the track, the 25-year-old Brammeier is under no illusions about his role in the squad and is relishing the prospect of continuing to progress in his new surroundings.
"I'm going to do what I'm told everyday on the bike," he explained. "These guys know what they're doing and I'll listen to them. I think I can make a step up and when my chance comes, I'll take it. Of course, I'd like to win a race this year, but then everybody does.
"I just want to do my job for the team really. If I can finish the season and the directors and riders are happy with what I've done, then that will be a successful season for me."
After the Tour of Qatar, Brammeier's next action will come at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne before he faces into a hectic period of racing in March and April, culminating with the Ardennes classics. A Grand Tour is currently not on the agenda for 2011, although Brammeier said that he would not turn down the opportunity if it arises.
"I'm not doing the Giro so far, I think I'm reserve," he said. "I don't think I'll be doing the Tour. It would be pretty special to get there in my first year at this level with this team, but everybody wants to do the Tour. I'd love to ride the Vuelta, but we'll have to see how it goes."
While Brammeier makes his HTC-Highroad debut in Qatar, his former team An Post-Sean Kelly received recognition for its effort by earning an invitation to the ASO event. Brammeier was fulsome in his praise for the Irish squad, which played a pivotal role in his development.
"It's awesome [that An Post-Sean Kelly have been invited]," he said. "For the past few seasons Niko [Eeckhout] has won a few races, I won the national championships last year and obviously there's Sean's [Kelly] presence as well, and this is great for the team.
"I'm pretty sure that bar some of the American teams, An Post is the best Continental team in the world. One day you can be riding the Tour of Qatar with the world's best riders and then you can be in Belgium riding Kuurne. You can do everything, so for young riders it's great for their development and a great stepping stone."