As riders and national teams arrive in Qatar for the UCI Road World Championships, the possibility of high temperatures and cross winds has become apparent, with current temperatures of 36C and humidity of 70 per cent in the capital Doha, which will host the time trial and road races.
Fortunately for the riders, the temperatures are forecast to dip below or remain around 35C throughout the eight days of racing, which should mean race distances are not cut because of the UCI’s Extreme Weather Protocol. However, the UCI has confirmed that a group of four medical experts will make daily assessments of the weather forecast and convene before each road race.
Tom Boonen warned that those riding the 257km elite men’s race will need to drink between ten and twelve litres of liquid because of the heat. “If you ride half an hour without a drink, your race is over and you can go home,” he said.
Boonen has won 22 stages at the Tour of Qatar. As one of the best Classics riders in the history of the sport, he knows that the wind and subsequent echelons will also be decisive. Boonen is hoping the wind will split the peloton and so give him and Belgium a better chance of victory.
Medium range forecasts for the elite men’s road race on October are predicting 30km/h winds from the northwest, with gusts up to 45km/h. With the race heading north and then south for the first 150km, cross winds and echelon seem likely.
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Daniele Bennati is the road captain of the Italian team that hope Giacomo Nizzolo or Elia Viviani can win the rainbow jersey. Bennati, like Boonen, sees crosswinds as an opportunity and an advantage rather that a problem.
“We’ll only know the exact conditions a few days before the race but if the wind is strong it could split up the race and we could reach the circuit in a small group,” Bennati said recently.
“For sure it’ll be a unusual World Championships, not only for the wind but for the heat too. Racing for so long in high temperatures will not suit everyone. I’ll be a factor and shape the race.
“If it’s windy I think a strong, well-organised team will be vital and can make a difference. I’ve ridden the Tour of Qatar a lot of times and the direction we race on the early section to al Kohr in the north is exposed to the wind. If it’s strong I don’t think the Belgian and Dutch teams will wait until the finishing circuits before attacking. If it’s windy, the race will be on from the start and there will be echelons and splits in the peloton. Then when we reach the finishing circuits everyone will assess the situation and decide their tactics for the finale.”
A select group before the finishing circuits
Italian national coach Davide Cassani has selected a strong team of rouleurs and lead out men to help set up Nizzolo and Viviani. His starting nine is expected to include Daniele Bennati, Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato, Matteo Trentin, Jacopo Guarnieri, Fabio Sabatini and Sonny Colbrelli. Filippo Pozzato is the travelling reserve, with Marco Coledan the final reserve.
They will have to combine their strength to take on the big favourites Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, Alexander Kristoff, Andre Greipel and French sprinters Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Demare.
Bennati is hoping the wind will reduce the peloton to a select group before the seven twisting finishing circuits on the artificial Pearl Island. The elite men cover the 15.2km circuit seven times.
“I don’t know if really hoping for wind because it will make for a much harder race but I’m convinced that if there’s a front group of 40 riders instead of 140, then that’s better for everyone in the move and for Italy’s chances,” he explained.
“I think the strongest teams are all hoping that it’s windy to shake out the race and get rid of some rivals. A smaller group makes it easier to get organised and also to take fewer risks. 120 riders on that twisting circuit will make things more difficult.
“For example Cavendish has a strong team but how many of them will be up therein the finale if there are echelons. Our sprinters might not have as much power as the big guys but we’ve got the riders to protect and lead out the sprinters. Sabatini is Kittel’s trusted lead out man and Guarnieri has been vital to Kristoff’s success in recent seasons. I hope that give the sprinters the trust and confidence to fight for victory.”