By Gregor Brown in Doha, Qatar
Qatar welcomes the inaugural Ladies' Tour of Qatar on the heels of the successful men's stage race. The three-stage women's event, February 8 to 10, has attracted some of the sports top riders to challenge for the overall leader's golden jersey.
"We believe in sports as a way to keep well physically and mentally, and cycling is something that everyone can practice. This race is a continuation of the [men's] Tour of Qatar; we have gained experience in race organisation that we've applied to the women's event," said President of the Qatar Cycling Federation, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Bin Abdullah Al Thani.
The stages are each around 100 kilometres long and each is based near the country's capital of Doha. Based on the results of the men's race this last week, the women's races will be decided in sprints from those strong enough to deal with the crosswinds and intense racing conditions.
There will be 15 teams of six riders for the 2009 edition. Team Columbia will be a strong force. It will work for its sprinter Emilia Fahlin. She will go head-to-head with the likes of Team Italy's Giorgia Bronzini, Lotto's Rochelle Gilmore, Cervélo's Kirsten Wild and Team Australia's Kirsty Broun.
Team USA brings Geelong World Cup winner Katheryn Mattis. Qatar will give fans a good indicator of her form for 2009 and if she recovered from the two broken collarbones that plagued her 2008 season. US champion Brooke Miller and Katharine Carroll are also strong contenders for sprint victories.
Like the men's race last week, there will be three classification jerseys awarded each day. Gold for the overall classification, silver for the leader in the points classification and blue for best young rider (under 25).
The stages total 313 kilometres. Stage one is 94 kilometres from Doha to Al Khor and back, stage two travels 110 kilometres from Doha to Al Shahaniyah and stage three starts in Al Shahaniyah and ends 109 kilometres later in Al Khor.