Gilbert, Hushovd to make team debut in Qatar
The Tours of Qatar and Oman in February will mark the BMC Racing Team debuts of UCI world No. 1 Philippe Gilbert and 2010 world road champion Thor Hushovd.
BMC Racing Team Directeur Sportif John Lelangue said the five-stage Tour of Qatar is a good start to the season for the team's classics squad. "It gives us good velocity and you have to be focusing every day to be at the front because the wind is always a factor," Lelangue said.
Gilbert, the Belgian national road and time trial champion, said he will use the Tour of Qatar to test his form and ease into the season.
"I like this race first because it's put on by Eddy Merckx, meaning it's well organized and perfect," Gilbert said. "It's also good preparation for the wind and to get a good feeling with our new riders and teammates."
Former US national time trial champion Taylor Phinney said he is also excited to start his season in Qatar.
"I raced here in 2010 as my first real race against the 'big boys,' so I look forward to coming back," Phinney said. "I hope to come out of training camp well and really make a showing or be able to help our guys get some quality results."
Meantime, five-time Italian national time trial champion Marco Pinotti makes his debut for the BMC Racing Team at the Tour of Oman, where he finished fourth overall in 2010.
"There's no time trial this year, so it will be a little bit of a new experience for me," Pinotti said. "We'll see how my form is at the beginning. My focus is more on the second part of the season with the Olympics and the Giro. But this will be a good measuring stick."
Former world road champion Alessandro Ballan said he hopes to figure in the overall as well.
"I think this race will be good for me because I'll have better condition coming from the Santos Tour Down Under," he said. "I hope the stage with the three kilometer climb for me is good. Overall, the course of the race favors many of my strengths."
BMC Racing Team Assistant Director Michael Sayers believes the race could be harder than last year.
"Our expectation is to have someone in the top five on the general classification and to try to get at least one stage win," Sayers said.
Tour of Qatar Roster (Feb. 6-11): Adam Blythe, Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd, Martin Kohler, Klaas Lodewijk, Taylor Phinney, Michael Schär, Danilo Wyss.
Tour of Oman Roster (Feb. 14-19): Alessandro Ballan, Adam Blythe, Martin Kohler, Klaas Lodewijk, Taylor Phinney, Marco Pinotti, Michael Schär, Danilo Wyss.
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