By David Hunter
After Dubai, the peloton make the short journey to Qatar. It might only be a short journey but it’s a totally different race. The organisers never deviate from the plan: short stages that cut through the desert. This race is perfect preparation for the Spring Classics and the field resembles many Belgian races.
Tom Boonen is the King of Qatar. He has 4 wins, 1 2nd and 1 3rd place in the last 9 years. Boonen is one of the best echelon riders in the last 20 years and he always arrives with a team to match. They might have a new name but it’s the same old team: Velits, Vandenbergh, Van Keirsbulck, Trentin, Terpstra, Maes, Keisse and Boonen. This is an amazing team and fresh from winning in Dubai, they will want to continue their winning start to the season. They benefit from having multiple options and forcing other teams into working hard. In Vandenbergh, Van Keirsbulck, Maes and Keisse they have some of the biggest engines in the business.
Peter Sagan has moved to Tinkoff – Saxo and they want results. This will be good for Sagan as he got way too comfortable at Cannondale, he strikes me as a man who responds well to challenge. They arrive with a solid squad: Trusov, Sagan, Morkov, Juul-Jensen, Brutt, Breschel, Bodnar and Rovny. Solid but not brilliant and not a patch on Etixx. It will be good to see where Sagan’s form is.
With 5 flat stages and a short TT, you would be mistaken for installing Marcel Kittel as the race favourite, especially with 10 bonus seconds available for stage wins. Kittel is not a good rider in the wind. I expect him to have, at least, 1 bad stage. This will result in him losing the race. He should be in the mix for 1 or 2 stage wins but I can’t see him winning the GC.
BMC look strong with Gilbert and Van Avermaet. Gilbert has racing in his legs but GVA doesn’t. I’m also interested to see how their new signings Drucker and De Marchi get on. Drucker could surprise a few in this race.
Movistar arrive with a strong looking team and an in-form Alejandro Valverde. The history books tell us the Spanish don’t like this race, only Flecha has done well here in the past. I expect this to continue.
Arriving with an in-form rider is IAM Cycling. Heinrich Haussler won the Aussie title and performed well in the TDU and Cadel Evans race. He’s at home in these conditions, having finished 2nd in 2009. The team arrive with a clear purpose and goal, get the best result possible for their leader. The issue is the TT, but a crucial break might give him a big enough lead.
Lars Boom is another rider in form. He is very strong in these conditions and should get the nod as team leader. With help from Westra, Grivko and Bozic he should be able to go very close. The 11km TT is also in his favour, he was 2nd last year. Can he cope with the pressure of team leader?
Team Sky have Sir Brad. The world TT champion arrives with his focus on Paris-Roubaix. This doesn’t mean he won’t be trying here. Ian Stannard and Bernie Eisel provide Sky with a few options, especially as Eisel has been looking very good in Dubai.
Cancellara is the man for Trek but he usually takes a while to get going in the season. New signing, Gert Steegmans is an interesting option and with some unfinished business with Etixx, it’ll be fun to see how he goes.
Edvald Boasson Hagen arrives with MTN – Qhubeka, at his best he is a brilliant rider. It hasn’t really happened for the Norwegian in recent years, culminating in him leaving Team Sky. Can his new team get the best out of him? He certainly doesn’t arrive with a strong team: Venter, Van Zyl, Sbaragli, Ciolek and Bos. 1 man less than everyone else and without riders that will help him in the echelons. If EBH is going to do well, he needs to be in top form and have some luck.
I’m not sure how many sprints we’ll get but when we do, they’ll be good! We have Ruffoni, Bennett, Bouhanni, Demare, Van Genechten, Modolo, Rojas, Howard, Kittel, Kristoff, Sagan and Van Poppel. The French will be looking forward to Bouhanni v Demare!
The weather forecast is for quite a lot of wind, so Kittel isn’t winning! The strongest team will win and that’s Etixx – Quick Step. The only problem is selecting the winner, as it could be anyone from Boonen, Vandenbergh, Terpstra, Trentin and Van Keirsbulck! I’m going with the law of averages and selecting the King of Qatar, Tom Boonen, as the winner.
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