DOHA, Qatar (VN) — The elite men’s peloton properly saw the 2016 world championship course at race speed for the first time Tuesday in stage 2 of the Tour of Qatar. The Pearl circuit, they say, will likely see a sprint finish for the men on October 16.
The Tour of Qatar covered four laps of the 15.3-kilometer Pearl circuit before finishing farther away, at the Qatar University, where Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff won over Mark Cavendish.
The $15 billion artificial island with its ever-increasing high-rises grew from nothing over the last 10 years. The circuit navigates the roads between the towers, passing 24 roundabouts and making two U-turns. It looks nothing like the open and straight roads outside the city that winds often buffet, creating echelons in the Tour of Qatar.
“I think it might be a bit easier [than the Copenhagen Worlds in 2011] because the roads aren’t as wide,” said Dimension Data’s Cavendish, who won the title that year.
“You’ve got in your head that it’s going to be a roll around and sprint finish, but it’s not. It may look like that on TV, but cycling’s f—king hard, man. It’s going to be someone who can sprint, but who is quite resilient over that distance. It’s going to take its toll, the distance around there. No matter where you sit in the peloton, it’s going to be gnarly.”
The race will start at Sealine Beach, where the final stage of the Tour of Qatar usually begins, and cover 73.5 kilometers, mostly through barren plains, to reach Doha’s Pearl to the north. Details are yet to be released, but the men would need to cover 12 circuits to reach 257.1 kilometers. Each lap circles around two lagoons, in the shadows of the island’s 60-plus towers. The finish is near a residential area made to look like Venice.
“It was windier than I thought it was going to be, there wasn’t so much shelter from the buildings and the wind was coming always from a different direction when we moved around the different pearls. I don’t think the final circuit will create any splits, but it’s definitely going to be uncomfortable no matter where you are in the group,” added Cavendish.
“There may be a split, I can’t see it happening, but it’s definitely going to be gnarly wherever you are in the peloton. It actually makes for quite a good world championships. The people who write on your internet forums are going to want echelons and that, but we’re not f—king robots, we’re not going to do that for 260K.”
“I’m good in the cross-winds, though!” Norwegian Kristoff said of the lack of open desert roads. “It’s not really like what you’d find in the Tour of Qatar, where we are normally in the desert. It’s a little bit special, it seems like a criterium. There are accelerations after every corner.”
Both Cavendish and Italian Manuel Quinziato (BMC Racing Team) said that it looked like the Belgian and Dutch roads they ride in the Eneco Tour.
Dimension Data’s Tyler Farrar could lead the U.S. team. He previewed the circuit ahead of the Tour of Qatar and rode it in stage 2. He called the circuit “crazy.”
“With a lot of roundabouts and a lot of corners, I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Farrar said.
“There’s more wind effect on the circuit than I thought there’d be, but I don’t know if it’ll actually split the bunch on the circuit. I think it’ll be a sprint, it won’t be the easy sprint, riding around in the bunch and easily spinning your legs all day and then sprinting. I think everyone will be tired at the end, but it’ll still be a sprint.”
Belgian Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) was not so happy with what he saw on the island. He commented that “it’s not the most beautiful course.”
“It’s something special, like a kermesse criterium in Belgium,” he said. “Maybe some riders will be happy with it, but for a classics rider like me, we prefer something else. Even if it’s tough, a rider like Cavendish who can win Milano-Sanremo after 260K can do great on this course.”
Defending champion, Slovak Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) is not racing in Qatar after starting his season in Argentina’s Tour de San Luis. He won last year in Richmond, Virginia.