Tom Boonen says that with ‘nowhere to hide’ even just a small amount of wind could make a big difference to the outcome of Sunday’s men’s world road race in Doha.
Boonen knows a thing or two about racing in this part of the world. He has won 22 stages of the Tour of Qatar as well as winning the overall on four occasions, most recently in 2012 (Mark Cavendish won this year).
Speaking to Sky Sports, Boonen predicted a sprint finish but without significant lead-out trains.
"There will be a first and second and third and fourth and fifth and sixth group. Maybe the first and second groups will come back together, but the others, they won't come back.
"It might be just two or three from each team in each group, and I really don't see a bigger group than 60 riders going to the finish line.”
Riding the world road race for the final time, the 2005 champion said that on a flat course, there was a good chance that wind could play a major role.
"You don't need that much wind to make a big difference. More wind would be better, but it's very open here, almost like being on an island, so winds of 9kmh-12kmh is already a lot. If you have a little bit of wind, you can make a big difference. There is nowhere to hide.
"Everybody will have to make his efforts in the echelons coming back to Doha. Everybody, including the sprinters. There won't be sprinters or helpers or leaders anymore. By that point, it's just every man for himself."
The heat will be another challenge. Great Britain’s Luke Rowe has told the Team Sky website that it is “filthy hot”.
— Luke Rowe (@LukeRowe1990) October 14, 2016
"I've seen well over 40 degrees on the Garmin quite a few times. So that is going to be one of the biggest challenges – staying hydrated on Sunday. But we're all pumped for the race and looking forward to the challenge."
Speaking about suggestions the race might end up being shortened due to the conditions, Rowe said it couldn’t enter the team’s thinking. “We prepare for 260km and then anything less is a bonus.”
Boonen, for one, says the conditions are no surprise.
"I've done maybe 100 races in temperatures like this in my career, and maybe 25 at temperatures higher like this. Sure, it's a problem, but it's always a problem. Nobody ever complains about this until they have a Worlds in Qatar. They have known it was going to be here for three years and the week before it starts, they realise it's hot."