This year’s Tour of Qatar and the new Tour of Oman have attracted many of the big-name sprinters and Classics contenders as they look for some warm weather and intense racing to polish their early season form.
Race organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) today released the provisional start lists for both six-day stage races on Thursday, revealling a high-quality field for both races.
The Tour of Qatar begins with an 8.2 kilometre team time trial in Doha on Sunday February 7, while the Tour of Oman begins with a 61 kilometre circuit race in Muscat on February 14.
The same teams will compete in both races, although some have planned minor changes to their line-ups to suit the hillier Oman race that ends with an 18.6 kilometre individual time trial. There are ten ProTour teams on the start list with five Professional Continental teams and the under 23 Trek-Livestrong team headed by Taylor Phinney.
Boonen wears number one
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) will wear number one in the Tour of Qatar after winning overall in 2009. The Belgian will be chasing his third consecutive victory and fourth overall win since the inaugural edition of the race in 2002.
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) is no longer riding after a dental problem slowed his pre-season training but almost every other big-name sprinter and Classics rider will be in the Gulf for the expected fast finishes and high-speed echelons.
Fabian Cancellara leads the Saxo Bank team, with Australian Baden Cooke, and Haedo brothers Juan Jose and Lucas Sebastian, all possible sprint contenders.
The Cervélo Test Team showed they strength and ability last year when they made their debut in the peloton in Qatar. Stage winner Roger Hammond is back this year, along with Classics revelation Heinrich Haussler, former track sprinter Theo Bos and fast Italian neo-pro Davide Appollonio.
Garmin-Transitions won the opening team time trial in 2009 and will look to Tyler Farrar for success in the sprints. He will be supported by new signing Murilo Fischer of Brazil and Canadian time trialist Svein Tuft, who must be a favourite for the Tour of Oman time trial.
Other names for the sprints include Katusha’s Danilo Napolitano and Filippo Pozzato, Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Jimmy Casper (Saur-Sojasun), Gerald Ciolek (Milram), Daniele Bennati and Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas-Doimo). Former World Champion Alessandro Ballan makes his debut in the red BMC colours.
Team Sky target TTT
Team Sky recently added Bradley Wiggins to their roster for Qatar and is clearly targeting the opening team time trial by including powerful track riders Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard alongside veterans Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Juan Antonio Flecha. Edvald Boasson Hagen will make his debut for Team Sky in Qatar and will be a candidate to take on Boonen and the other sprinters as protected leader of the new British team.
Wiggins will only ride the Tour of Qatar, with Tour Down Under stage winner Chris Sutton replacing him in the team for the Tour of Oman.
Philippe Gilbert leads the Omega Pharma team and those hoping to avoid bunch sprint finishes. He will be looking to pounce if any stages are decided by echelons and breakaways.
The inclusion of Taylor Phinney’s Trek-Livestrong surprised some but is a great opportunity for the American under 23 team and a chance for Phinney to show his talent before stepping up to the full professional ranks. It will also be excellent training before he heads to the track World Championships in Copenhagen to defend his individual pursuit title.