Big gear specialists to the fore in Qatar

Tom Boonen has won a whopping 11 stages at the Tour of Qatar.

Tom Boonen has won a whopping 11 stages at the Tour of Qatar. (Image credit: AFP)

By Shane Stokes

Given that its riders have won the past two editions of the race and the team have proven themselves one of the best in the world on flat, wind-swept terrain, all eyes will be on the Quick.Step team during the seventh running of the Tour of Qatar.

The race represents the season debut for many riders and while some will be in the middle-eastern country primarily to build form, others will be taking the race very seriously indeed. Tom Boonen won the 2006 edition, finished second last year and has landed 11 stage wins in all; he'll be keen to add to that impressive tally and show that he is on course for a strong Classics campaign.

Boonen's team-mate Wilfried Cretskens finished two minutes and nine seconds ahead of the former world champion 12 months ago, pushing him into second place thanks to the time he gained in the stage five breakaway. He too is heading back to the six-day, 2.1-ranked event with success in mind. Both of them will be backed up by a strong Quick.Step selection.

Greg Van Avermaet won stage five last year and the 22 year-old will be fired up to ride strongly again. His Silence Lotto team features the likes of 2006 Tour of Belgium winner Maarten Tjallingii and Leif Hoste, who will have trained hard over the winter to prepare for the Tour of Flanders. He finished second there in 2004, 2006 and 2007 and is highly motivated to finally win the Ronde.

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