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.