Now in its eighth edition, the Ladies Tour of Qatar has become a staple of the calendar, and though it has not been included on the slate for this season’s inaugural UCI Women’s WorldTour, it has nonetheless attracted a strong field, with previous winners Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products) and Ellen van Dijk (Boels Dolmans) joined by a host of contenders including Chloe Hosking (Wiggle High5), Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon//Sram Racing) and Shelley Olds (Cylance Pro Cycling).
With the World Championships taking place in Doha in October, the Ladies Tour of Qatar takes on added significance this year, and the opening stage of the race from Katara Cultural Village to Qatar University will give the peloton an opportunity to sample the Worlds parcours.
As ever, the Ladies Tour of Qatar looks set to be a sprinters’ benefit, with bonus seconds potentially decisive, though the wind is usually a factor when the race finishes on the circuit at Madinat Al Shamal, which this year serves as the finale of stage 3. Doha’s Corniche provides the backdrop for the grandstand finish on the final day.
Winner of the first two editions in 2009 and 2010, and again in 2013 and 2014, Wild is the perfect prototype of a Tour of Qatar rider, blessed with an eye for an echelon and a rapid finishing sprint. Part of a strong team that also includes Charlotte Becker, Wild will line out as the favourite.
Wild has spent the winter on the track, claiming the overall World Cup standings in the omnium, and the Ladies Tour of Qatar race will also serve as her final tune-up for the Track World Championships in London.
Chloe Hosking finished on the podium a year ago and has always been a redoubtable performer in Qatar. With her sights already set on leading the Australian team at the Doha Worlds in October, the Wiggle-High5 rider will not be lacking in motivation here and has already shown signs of form in Australia in January. She is joined in a strong Wiggle-High5 team by new arrival Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo Borghini.
With last year’s winner and world champion Lizzie Armitstead opting to forgo the Tour of Qatar, Ellen van Dijk leads the line for Boels Dolmans and the Dutchwoman will be seeking a repeat of her emphatic victory here in 2011.
Tiffany Cromwell, Trixi Worrack, Elena Cecchini and Lisa Brennauer all line out as part of a strong delegation from the new Canyon//SRAM squad, while another new team, Cylance Pro Cycling, will field two overall contenders in Shelley Olds and Valentina Scandolara.
Orica-AIS have traditionally been an aggressive presence at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, and with new signing Annemiek van Vleuten, Gracie Elvin and Santos Women’s Tour winner Katrin Garfoot, they will surely be prominent again this time around.