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Peloton ready for tenth Tour of Qatar

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Tom Boonen (Quick Step) looks sharp ahead of the Tour of Qatar.

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) looks sharp ahead of the Tour of Qatar.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has a great record in Qatar.

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has a great record in Qatar.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) is in confident mood.

Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) is in confident mood.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) at the launch of Doha's free bikes scheme.

Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) at the launch of Doha's free bikes scheme.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Two Australian champions swap notes. Jack Bobridge and Alexis Rhodes (Garmin-Cervelo) in Doha.

Two Australian champions swap notes. Jack Bobridge and Alexis Rhodes (Garmin-Cervelo) in Doha.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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The man to watch. Jack Bobridge is in great form.

The man to watch. Jack Bobridge is in great form.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Garmin-Cervelo get ready for a training ride in Doha.

Garmin-Cervelo get ready for a training ride in Doha.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Garmin-Cervelo will be very competitive in Qatar.

Garmin-Cervelo will be very competitive in Qatar.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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The FDJ team in Doha ahead of the Tour of Qatar.

The FDJ team in Doha ahead of the Tour of Qatar.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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The An Post-Sean Kelly team ahead of the Tour of Qatar.

The An Post-Sean Kelly team ahead of the Tour of Qatar.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Sandy Casar (FDJ) speaks with Sean Kelly in Doha.

Sandy Casar (FDJ) speaks with Sean Kelly in Doha.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Niko Eeckhout brings great experience to the An Post-Sean Kelly team.

Niko Eeckhout brings great experience to the An Post-Sean Kelly team.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Luca Paolini makes his Katusha debut in Qatar.

Luca Paolini makes his Katusha debut in Qatar.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Alex Dowsett (Sky) in Doha ahead of the Tour of Qatar.

Alex Dowsett (Sky) in Doha ahead of the Tour of Qatar.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Jeremy Hunt (Sky) and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) at the launch of Doha's free bikes scheme.

Jeremy Hunt (Sky) and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) at the launch of Doha's free bikes scheme.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) speaks with Luca Scinto and Farnese Vini-Neri.

Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) speaks with Luca Scinto and Farnese Vini-Neri.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Farnese Vini-Neri include sprint sensation Andrea Guardini in their ranks.

Farnese Vini-Neri include sprint sensation Andrea Guardini in their ranks.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Geox-TMC will show off their new kit in Qatar.

Geox-TMC will show off their new kit in Qatar.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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Geox-TMC must earn their place in the year's big races.

Geox-TMC must earn their place in the year's big races.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)
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BMC are without the injured Taylor Phinney.

BMC are without the injured Taylor Phinney.
(Image credit: Barry Ryan)

The 10th Tour of Qatar gets underway in Doha on Sunday with a 2km prologue time trial. When it comes to races against the watch, world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) starts as the favourite but he may face stiff competition over the short course from riders who have already made their season debut.

One man who will be looking to take the Swiss rider's scalp in Sunday’s short test will be Australian champion Jack Bobridge (Garmin-Cervélo). Fresh from breaking Chris Boardman’s 15-year-old world individual pursuit record last week, Bobridge is clearly in exceptional form. There is a palpable buzz surrounding the Australian’s chances in Doha this weekend, exemplified by the fact that L’Équipe’s photographer was commissioned to follow Bobridge on his training ride on the eve of the race.

Bobridge’s Garmin-Cervélo team will be looking to set down a marker ahead of the spring classics. With the merging of Cervélo TestTeam and Garmin-Transitions’ classics squads, Heinrich Haussler reckons his team is the best in the business. With the likes of Leopard Trek and Quick Step also in Qatar, the six-day tour will be an early opportunity to score some important psychological points before the spring classics.

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) endured a difficult season in 2010, as a knee injury curtailed his season. But the Belgian has arrived in Doha looking fit and lean after a long winter of rehabilitation and training. A mainstay of the race over the course of its history, Boonen will be looking to get back to winning ways on familiar roads this week.

The Belgian is not the only fast man with his eyes on stage wins this week of course. Italian sprint duo Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini-Neri) and Daniel Bennati (Leopard Trek) will also be eyeing victory, but Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) appears to be the man to beat.

After a troubled start to last season, Cavendish is fit, motivated and bullish about his chances as he begins his 2011 campaign. “It’s a silly question to ask if I’m going to be ahead of myself compared to last year,” Cavendish told Cyclingnews. “I’m good, I’m looking forward to it.” We’ve all been warned…

Click here to see Cyclingnews’ exclusive gallery as the peloton arrives in Qatar.