Some of the world’s top cyclists including Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff and Greg Van Avermaet will be competing in this year’s Tour of Qatar, which gets underway today.
A total of 18 teams, mostly from Europe but also representing Australia, South Africa, the US and the UAE will take part in the event, which runs over five stages this year rather than the usual six, organizers said.
However, the 2016 lineup will be missing some stalwarts. The Belgian UTI world tour cycling team Etixx-QuickStep, which has supplied a winner in eight of the past 10 editions of the event and is Cavendish’s former team, will not be taking part this year.
In a press conference yesterday, Qatar Cycling Federation President Sheikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Thani said the team had not been invited to take part this year due to “disciplinary problems” in previous editions of the event, Supersport said.
“For example they take too long to change and give interviews even though they are expected on live television, and they take too long to reach the podium.” Sheikh Khalid added, saying they were “lacking respect.”
As the winner of the 2013 event, Briton Cavendish is with his new team the South African Dimension Data and is expected to draw crowds to watch him take on Norway’s Alexander Kristoff, who is part of the Russian team Katusha.
Joining Cavendish on his new team will be Australian Mark Renshaw, the winner of the 2011 Tour of Qatar, who will return to the race for the first time in four years.
“The race will be different without our former team Etixx-Quick Step (which has won eight of the last ten editions of the Tour of Qatar), but it won’t be any easier because the peloton is very deep and full of motivated riders. It is an important race for the favorites of the classics like Alexander Kristoff and Greg van Avermaet,” Renshaw said in a statement.
“The motivation of the riders on this event is huge. It is a hard race, very windy, which only suits a handful of riders who know how to put themselves into a good place during the race and sprint to the finish. I love this race, I look forward to returning.”
This year’s teams include:
Germany – Team Giant Alpecin and Argon 18
Italy – Lampre-Merida
Kazakhstan – Astana Pro Team
Netherlands – Team Lotto NL-Jumbo and Roompot-Orange Peloton
Poland – CCC Sprandi Polkowice
Russia – Katusha
South Africa – Team Dimension Data
United Arab Emirates – Skydive Dubai Pro Cycling team
USA – BMC Racing Tea, and United Healthcare Pro Cycling
Now in its 15th year, the Tour of Qatar is the first in the international cycling events season organized by Amaury Sport Organization, which also oversees the Tour de France.
The annual event, which runs until Feb. 12, covers a total of 625km, and winds across the country to take in key locations including Katara Cultural Village, Qatar University, The Pearl-Qatar, Al Zubarah Fort and the Doha Corniche.
Diversions and road closures are expected during the event, but these have not formally been announced by the organizers yet.
Stage 1 on Feb. 8 starts in Dukhan and runs for 176km through Ras Laffan and weaves through the desert to finish up at the Al Khor Corniche.
Stage 2 on Feb. 9 (National Sport Day) starts and finishes at Qatar University, running a 135km loop that goes through the Pearl-Qatar in four laps, before heading north past the seaside town of Simaisma, then returning back to QU.
Residents in the area, including the Pearl and West Bay Lagoon, have been told to expect diversions and road closures from 1pm to 3pm while the race is underway.
Stage 3, on Feb. 10 starts at 1:40pm and is a super-short 11km time-trial loop around Losail, taking in the international circuit, the shooting complex and the sports arena.
On Feb. 11, stage 4 will be the longest single route of the competition, taking in 189km. It starts at Al Zubarah Fort, heads south and loops through Al Ghuwairiya before finishing up at Madinat Al Shamal – the northern tip of Qatar.
The final leg of the tour on Feb. 12 is 114km long and starts at Sealine beach resort, heading north past Mesaieed and Al Wakrah before getting to Doha.
The last stretch of the route includes 10 laps of Doha’s Corniche.
Do you plan to watch? Thoughts?