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Piva centres Columbia's Qatar team on Cavendish

Mark Cavendish at the 2009 Columbia team launch

Mark Cavendish at the 2009 Columbia team launch (Image credit: Shane Stokes)

Valerio Piva has the entire Columbia-Highroad team centred on Mark Cavendish for the Tour of Qatar, February 1 to 6. The Italian directeur sportif will manage the USA team in Cavendish's first race of the season.

"Qatar offers an almost unique chance for the sprinters to shine because it's the only stage race in the entire calendar where there are no climbs at all. It's only natural that we should build everything around Mark," said Piva.

The eighth edition of the race fields 17 teams of eight riders. Team Columbia will send a sprinters' team for Cavendish: Michael Barry, Marcus Burghardt, Bert Grabsch, Gregory Henderson, Frantisek Rabon, Vicente Reynes and Marcel Sieberg

"Everybody's feeling very keen, everyone's fresh, and they all want to get a good result as soon as possible."

The six-stage race opens with a team time trial of six kilometres. Organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) limits teams to using standard road bikes for the first stage.

"That rule was brought in because of the complicated logistics in getting time trial bikes to Qatar and it evens things out between each team. The course itself isn't that complicated; there are just two big corners at the end of a broad highway – the time differences likely to be small. We're sure to have a fast, exciting race, with minimal differences between the top names all the way to the finish line."

Team Columbia will also have a team in the women's race. It is the first year for the women's stage race, February 8 to 10.

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