With the women’s race now over, attention turns to the men’s peloton at the Tour of Qatar. The six-day event starts on Sunday and marks the second Middle-Eastern adventure for the peloton with the Dubai Tour and the Tour of Oman either side of it, though as the longest-running of that trio of races, the Tour of Qatar has forged a reputation as respected standalone event in its own right.
The format for the route remains virtually unchanged from last year with five road stages and a 10.9 kilometre stage thrown in for what should be a showdown between a hatful of the best sprinters in the world, a number of Classics stars, and a sprinkling of some of the top time triallists.
Etixx-QuickStep, already the most successful team of the season, return to Qatar in force for a race they’ve dominated since its inception. The Belgian team have won the race for the last three years and with Tom Boonen and defending champion Niki Terpstra both set to start, the Classics team will be looking for their fourth straight crown and an early opportunity to show their echelon skills ahead of their more glamorous targets in April.
So much of the race depends on crosswinds and how a team can interpret and read a race but Etixx-QuickStep will have stern competition this year with Trek Factory Racing, BMC, and Peter Sagan’s Tinkoff-Saxo team all capable of splitting and controlling the race.
Sagan, Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka), and Lars Boom (Astana) all start but the majority of the stages should be decided by the sprinters.
Marcel Kittel returns from a stint of racing in Australia and will line up with a strong lead-out train. The German is certainly no slouch against the clock too and could well feature in the individual time trial too, making him one of the favourites despite never having raced in Qatar before.
In the sprints, Kittel will have to fend off Boonen, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Gerald Ciolek, Theo Bos (MTN-Qhubeka), Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) and the French pair of Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ).
Bouhanni left FDJ last season after a lack of opportunities while riding alongside Démare, and the Cofidis team have spent the winter building a team around the former French national champion, who will be keen to prove his former employers were wrong to let him go.
The Tour of Qatar also marks Bradley Wiggins’ first race of the season after he opted to forgo the Challenge Mallorca. The British rider’s march to Paris-Roubaix starts here according to the rider (insert link to story) and he will be looking to not only win the time trial but lead his team again the likes of Etixx QuickStep whenever the cross-winds come into play.
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