DOHA, Qatar (AFP) — Quick Step’s Tom Boonen and HTC-HighRoad’s Mark Cavendish head the field at the 10th Tour of Qatar, which begins in Doha on Sunday and promises some lively duels between the sport’s top sprinters.
In the Gulf state that will welcome the football World Cup in 2022, the man to beat will likely be Boonen.
10th Tour of Qatar stages:
Sunday, prologue at Doha’s Cultural Village (2.5km)
Monday, stage 1: Dukhan – Al Khor Corniche (145.5km)
Tuesday, stage 2: Camel Race Track – Doha Golf Club (135.5km)
Wednesday, stage 3: Al Wakra – Mesaieed (150.5km)
Thursday, stage 4: West Bay Lagoon – Al Kharaitiyat (153.5km)
Friday, stage 5: Sealine Beach Resort – Doha Corniche (126.5km)
The three-time overall Tour of Qatar winner has 17 stage victories in the race under his belt but arrives in Qatar on the back of a 2010 season hindered by a knee operation in the summer that required a long spell of rehabilitation.
“I feel ready,” said the Quick Step rider and 2005 world champion this week.
“I’m as hungry as a wolf.”
Boonen will face stiff competition from Cavendish, who is also seeking a return to form but who can call upon a strong team and the support of Austria’s Bernhard Eisel in the sprints.
Among the other sprinters hoping to make a mark on the race’s flat, windy stages are Boonen’s teammate Francesco Chicchi, Rabobank’s Theo Bos and Graeme Brown and Skil-Shimano’s Kenny van Hummel.
If the wind picks up, as it often does in Qatar, the peloton’s powerhouses could have a say in the final shake-up.
Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek), the favorite for Sunday’s 2.5km prologue, leads a pack of dangerous all-rounders including Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky), the Edval Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo).