World champion Mark Cavendish has been a popular choice for players of our Fantasy Cycling game as the Tour of Qatar gets under way today, but he’s fighting to recover from illness to make his Team Sky debut; meanwhile, André Greipel, the man who dominated the sprints in the Santos Tour Down Under last month, certainly won’t be taking part after withdrawing earlier in the week through injury.
Nevertheless, this year’s race features plenty of big name riders – Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Cancellara to name but three – as well as a host of less heralded ones looking to make their mark early on in the 2012 season.
Its pan flat profile – organisers don’t even bother producing profiles of the stages – means that the Tour of Qatar is widely seen as a sprinters’ race, and that’s certainly the case when there’s little more than a breeze in the air.
But when the wind gets up, as seems likely to happen this week, there’s every chance of the field being split apart as echelons form – the zig-zag parcours of some stages virtually guaranteeing it.
Geraint Thomas, currently preparing for the London round of the UCI World Cup Classics later this month, won’t be racing, but he took part in the race in 2010, when Team Sky won the team time trial, and he’s given us some pointers on what to look out for in the coming days.
“It’s all about the crosswinds in Qatar, it’s the first time in the season the Classsics guys race with each other, Fabian Cancellara, Juan Antonio Flecha, Tom Boonen’s been there many years,” Thomas told road.cc.
“It’s a race that’s dominated by the wind really. If there’s no wind, it can be a boring sort of race, but when it’s windy, it’s crazy, it’s like racing as a junior again, pretty mental," he continued.
“I think the usual teams that do well in the crosswinds will be active there, Garmin, Sky, Rabobank, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, those sorts of guys.
“There’s usually a smaller group coming to the finish, so you’d be looking for people like Haussler, Cav, and it obviously helps being on a strong team, with the crosswinds.
“The breaks there involve the smaller teams, they’re allowed a bit of space. It depends on the wind though – if there’s a crosswind straight away then usually there’s no break, if there’s a split, the best guys make it and it’s a tough three hours,” he concluded.
The official start list and full details of the race can be found on the Tour of Qatar website.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.