The Tour of Qatar may not be the first race to come to mind when one thinks of the hard men of the Belgian Classics, but its fierce winds and aggressive racing have favoured Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Tom Boonen to such an extent that he holds the record for stage wins (20) and has won the race four times in his career. Boonen will be seeking to add to his tally when the race kicks off in Al Wakrah on February 9.
"I really like the Tour of Qatar, it's a race that is perfectly suited to my strengths," Boonen said. "The wind is a fundamental factor in this competition; whether you want to or not, it forces you to always try to stay out in front and never underestimate any racing situation. Luckily, pedalling in the wind is one of the things OPQS excels in. I'm really looking forward to this race."
Boonen will also look to turn around a less than satisfactory record in 2013, a year in which he was plagued by illness and injury, ending the season early due to a troublesome saddle sore. He showed improving form at the Tour de San Luis in January, falling shy of a sprint win on stage 3.
"After the Tour de San Luis, in which I did some good work, the Tour of Qatar will be another important step in the first part of my season," Boonen said.
By his side for the Tour of Qatar will be lead-out man Gert Steegmans, Niki Terpstra, Stijn Vandenbergh, Andrew Fenn, Nikolas Maes, Iljo Keisse and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck. While the new 10.8km individual time trial at the Lusail MotoGP circuit may not normally be suited to Boonen's strengths, he was 7th at the time trial in San Luis, which bodes well for his aspirations for the GC in Qatar. It also opens up possibilities for Terpstra, says Omega Pharma directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters.
"Normally, the stages end up in tight final sprints with just a few riders. They are unusual sprints because after hours of battling the winds, riders come in to the sprint very tired. ... There will also be a 10.9 km time trial to be ridden on a normal road bike in which Niki could figure prominently. We are setting out with the desire and ambition to come back with a good result."
Omega Pharma-QuickStep for Tour of Qatar: Tom Boonen, Andrew Fenn, Iljo Keisse, Nikolas Maes, Gert Steegmans, Niki Terpstra, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Stijn Vandenbergh.
The UnitedHealthcare team will make its debut in the Tour of Qatar, and is bringing along a mix of strong sprinters and riders who have experience in hard, windswept races. Classics specialist Martijn Maaskant will make his debut with the team, with the well-oiled sprint train of Robert Förster, Alessandro Bazzana, Aldo Ilesic and John Murphy, with new addition Ken Hanson, as well as Chris Jones and Kiel Reijnen.
United Healthcare for Tour of Qatar: Alessandro Bazzana, Robert Förster, Ken Hanson, Aldo Ilesic, Chris Jones, Martijn Maaskant, John Murphy, Kiel Reijnen.
Katusha announced its squad, which will aim for stage wins by sprinter Alexander Kristoff.
Katusha for Tour of Qatar: Marco Haller, Vladimir Isaychev, Alexander Kristoff, Aliaksandr Kuchynski, Viacheslav Kuznetsov, Rudiger Selig, Gatis Smukulis and Alexey Tsatevich.