The top sprinters of the peloton head this weekend to the Persian Gulf for the eighth Tour of Qatar to get in a little early season speed, and this year's event should prove to be one of the most hotly contested in the history of the race. With the only elevation in the area provided by the shiny glass skyscrapers and the occasional sand dune or highway overpass the only challenge for the riders, this flat and fast stage race is custom made for the quickest men in cycling.
And when speaking of fast men, two names leap to mind: Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen. Last year Boonen ruled the roost in Qatar, finishing no lower than fourth place on any stage and waltzing through to the overall win with three stages wins under his belt (four if you include the team time trial). In fact, Boonen has been so dominant in this event that he has won 14 stages in the five years he's come here.
But that streak might end with the presence of the speedy Manx man, Cavendish, who has proven to be virtually unbeatable in bunch sprints over the past year. He will have his lead-out men Marcus Burghardt and Greg Henderson for the sprints and world time trial champion Bert Grabsch to help propel the team to the lead in the opening team time trial.
But the Columbia and Quick Step teams are not the only ones with some time trial engines – the Garmin-Slipstream team will field a powerful squad including Olympic gold medallist Bradley Wiggins, who has been educating his new teammates on just how fast one can ride a flat six-kilometre race.
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