The 11th staging of the Tour of Qatar is almost upon us and promises to be the most exciting edition yet. Olympic years always take on extra significance and the road to the grand tours and the London 2012 Games continues right here in the oil-rich desert state on the banks of the Persian Gulf. Sixteen teams will take up the challenge in what are predicted to be warm and sunny conditions.
With almost completely flat terrain, the race is suited to sprinters – and a look at the list of past GC winners, along with an examination of this year’s entrants, backs up that theory. Belgian sprinter Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma - QuickStep) is returning to bid for a fourth gold jersey as the overall winner, after winning in 2006, 2008 and 2009; Australia’s defending champion Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) is back to try and retain his title; Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish, widely recognised as the best sprinter in the world, makes his seasonal bow and debut for Team Sky; and Germany’s Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol), winner of half of the stages at the Tour Down Under earlier this month, also makes the trip to the Gulf.
But the star sprinters won’t be the only star attractions at the six-stage race, which runs from February 5-10. 2011 Velo d’Or winner Philippe Gilbert – arguably the world’s best all round rider – will be making his debut for BMC Racing. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Nissan) will begin his preparations for his annual assault on the spring classics by taking on the desert conditions and notorious cross winds that are a feature of this event. Peter Sagan (Liquigas - Cannondale), nominated by Gilbert as a potential rival to his dominance, will start the race for the first time in his short but highly promising career.
The dusty and windy roads of Qatar will also provide the next rung on the ladder to redemption for Thomas Dekker, who will make his competitive debut for Garmin-Barracuda. Dekker, who completed a two-year ban for doping in June 2011, will be hopeful of a good performance to start repaying the faith shown in him this winter by team boss Jonathan Vaughters. The UCI ProTour’s newest team, Australia’s GreenEdge, will be on the start line too. Simon Gerrans provided them with a dream debut at the Tour Down Under on home soil a couple of weeks ago and they will be keen to prove that they can transfer this promise to foreign soil.
The race gets underway with the 142.5km first stage from the iconic Barzan Towers to the famous Doha Golf Club in the heart of the capital. Cyclingnews will be on location in Qatar to bring you all the latest reports and news from the race.