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Starting at 12.45 CET, you can follow the windy second stage of the Tour of Qatar on

Photo: Sirotti


10.02.2014 @ 12:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

On day one the wind may not have split up the peloton as expected but the hard racing in the early part of the stage was enough to send half the peloton out the back door and had tired out the legs to an extent that a very strong break could stay away to the finish. The selection process will continue tomorrow when another windy day is in store and even though it may again not blow completely to pieces, a great battle should be in store. Starting at 12.45 CET, you can follow the stage on


The course

The second stage will be a Tour of Qatar classic as the 160.5km route - the longest in the race - is an unchanged copy of one that has also been used for the 2012 and 2013 editions of the race. The stage will start at the Camel Race Track in the middle of the country, allowing photographers to shoot some very iconic photos of the riders in some unfamiliar surroundings. From there, the riders will head west as they approach the coast.


Just before the first intermediate sprint which comes at the 37.5km mark, the riders will turn right to start a longer section that will bring them to the northern part of the country. However, the organizers are keen to offer as many changes in direction as possible and instead of continuing along the main road, they will zigzag their way through the country by making four turns before getting back to the main thoroughfare.


With 50km to go, there will be a right-hand turn that sends the riders in a predominantly eastern direction. Again there will be two sharp corners that lead to the final stretch that takes them to the road which heads to the finish in Al Khor Corniche from a southeastern direction. Having reached the coast, the riders will turn right in a roundabout 3.7km from the finish. 1.3km from the line they will turn 180 degrees in a roundabout before getting onto the coastal finishing straight that has a number of sweeping corners. The road has a width of 8m and is again completely flat.


A stage has finished in Al Khor every year since 2005 when Lars Michaelsen was the first to win there, except for 2007. In 2006, Tom Boonen won two stages there. In 2008, Alberto Loddo and Danilo Napolitano won bunch sprints while Roger Hammond was first across the line on a dramatic stage in 2009.


In 2010, Francesco Chicchi won a straightforward bunch sprint while Boonen was first across the line on a very windy opening stage in 2011. The past two years have seen the Corniche host bunch sprint finishes, with Mark Cavendish triumphing on both occasions.



The weather

Today was an extremely windy day in the Qatari desert but as the wind was more of a headwind than a crosswind in the final part of the stage, no major splits occurred in the second half - with the major exception of course being the break that stayed away to the finish. Tomorrow will be another windy day but unfortunately the conditions will not be as tough as they were today.


The riders can expect plenty of sunshine but it will not be an overly hot day as the temperatures are again expected to peak at around 19 degrees. A few more clouds may occur near the end of the race but the conditions will generally be nice.


The riders will again have to tackle a solid wind that will come from a northwestern direction. It will not be as strong as it was today but it should be strong enough to split things up when it comes from the right direction


The start should be a controlled one as there will be a headwind until just before the first intermediate sprint but then the riders hit a long section with direct crosswind. Then a section with tailwind is followed by another crosswind stretch and a piece with headwind. It is then time for the final short crosswinds section while the riders will generally have a tailwind for the final 50km of the stage.


Heading along the seafront at the end, the riders will have a cross-tailwind, turning into a tailwind when they turn left 3.7km from the finish. Having taken a U-turn 1.3km from the finish, there will be a headwind for the sprint.


The favourites

The race has been given an interesting dynamics after today's stage which allowed some strong classics riders that are mostly solid time trialists, to get an advantage over the pre-race favourites. Teams like Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Lotto Belisol now have a number of cards to play while several teams may regret that they didn't do anything to chase down the escapees.


The riders in the break were clearly all strong but the most impressive was certainly Terpstra. Despite being up against much faster riders, his final acceleration - into a fierce headwind - was so strong that no one could hold his wheel. With Terpstra possessing a strong time trial and Tom Boonen showing splendid condition in the peloton's sprint, Omega Pharma-Quick Step is afain the team to beat.


While several team chased hard to bring back the escape, it was a surprise to see that Trek didn't lend them a hand. Fabian Cancellara has a fantastic chance of winning this year's Tour of Qatar but the American team was one of a select few not to take any turns at all. It may be indicative of Cancellara's approach to the race - it is merely training for the classics specialist - but it may have been a stupid mistake to take away the chance of a win that could come almost by coincidence.


Tomorrow's stage will again be a windy one and with several crosswind sections, we should again see some splits in the first part of the stage. It will depend on the composition of the different group whether things will come back together for a sprint from a larger group. On one hand, the final long crosswind sections is rather far from the finish, meaning that it will be more difficult to maintain a selection all the way to the finish. On the other hand the tailwind near the end means that it will be easier than today where the headwind could kill a lot of the initiative.


Due to the distance from the long crosswind stretch, we think that we will see some kind of regrouping at the end but it will certainly not be the entire field that arrives at the finish together. Again there is a risk of attacks on the run-in to the finish and with a tailwind they will even have a better chance of staying away. Several teams will be keen to go on the attack and we could be in for a scenario like today's. With Terpstra now being in pole position, Omega Pharma-Quick Step may, however, be keen to play it a bit more defensively and with the Belgians being the strongest team in the race, this means that a sprint finish from a reduced peloton is the most likely outcome.


This again means that Andre Greipel is the man to beat. Today the German champion had no trouble making the selection and with Roelandts up the road, he could allow his Lotto Belisol team to take it easy. He didn't feature in the final sprint, with his teammate Marcel Sieberg ending 10th instead, but he ended near the front, showing that it was not due to a lack of condition.


As we already said in our preview of stage 1, Greipel has been in excellent condition right from the beginning of the season as he climbed impressively in the Tour Down Under and easily scored two stage wins along the way. With Roelandts and Sieberg on hand for support, he has - by far - the best lead-out train in the race and as Greipel is also the fastest rider, he will be very hard to beat in any kind of sprint finish. He is excellent in the battle for position and will be very hard to drop in the crosswinds as will Sieberg and Roelandts. Today 7 of the 8 Lotto riders made the front group, meaning that Greipel is likely to have plenty of support in the finale. If the team is not represented in a late breakaway like they were today, chances are that they will have the firepower to bring things back together.


What could change the dynamics is that Roelandts now has a chance to win the race overall. The Belgian is now in 2nd and is a fast rider that could potentially score a few bonus seconds. Greipel is famously known for his willingness to support his teammates and he would gladly lend a hand to Roelandts if a chance occur for his lead-out man. If a very small group arrives at the finish, we could see the team give Roelandts a shot. If it will be more of a bunch sprint, however, we are pretty sure that Greipel will be the Lotto sprinter and then he will be the man to beat.


Today Tom Boonen again underlined that he is a fabulous rider for the Tour of Qatar and that he is in excellent condition right from the beginning as he had already proved in the Tour de San Luis. The Belgian appeared to be at ease when he won the sprint for 6th and he remains very much in contention for a 5th overall win despite his teammate Terpstra now being in pole position.


Omega Pharma-Quick Step is certainly the strongest team in the race as they proved in today's finale and there is little doubt that they will try to force the selection in the windy sections. If things come back together near the end, however, they are likely to be a bit more defensive than they were today.


In case of a sprint finish, it will be all for Boonen. The Belgian is not nearly as fast as Greipel but as he proved when he won the E3, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Bruxelles in 2013, he is incredibly hard to beat in a sprint if it comes at the end of a hard race. This was further underlined by his strong sprint in today's stage that had also had a very hard start. As there is guaranteed to be some hard racing along the way, Boonen certainly has a shot at a 21st stage win in Qatar.


FDJ showed full commitment to their sprinter Arnaud Demare in today's stage but in the end they lacked the firepower to bring things back together. In the sprint for 6th, Demare was only beaten by Boonen and Barry Markus.


Despite failing to come away with the win, it proved that Demare is ready even though this is the first race of his season. He may not be a very experienced classics rider yet and his FDJ team is certainly not one of the true powerhouses. There is a risk that he won't make the front group if the race becomes really hard but if he is there at the finish, he is one of the few who has the speed to beat Greipel.


The rider to finish second in today's bunch sprint is Barry Markus who has an excellent track record in Qatar. Last year he twice finished second behind Mark Cavendish and today he proved that he still excels in the Arabian country in his first race as a Belkin rider.


Markus is extremely fast but is also a pure sprinter who struggles on even the smallest climb. However, the pancake flat nature of the Qatari desert makes the race perfectly suited to his skills. He didn't make the front selection when things split up in the beginning but managed to return later in the race and showed his speed at the finish.


If Theo Bos is present at the finish, Bos will be the preferred sprinter for Belkin but we doubt that will be the case. It is also very likely that Markus misses out but if the race becomes less hard, he could be up there. If that is the case, he is one of the few who has the speed to potentially win.


While Markus needs to hope for a less selective race, Alexander Kristoff finds himself in the opposite situation. The Norwegian doesn't have the speed to beat Greipel at the end of an easy stage but if the sprint comes on the back of a real war, he is very fast. This is evidenced by his wins in the sprints for the minor placings in last year's Milan-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Today he appeared to be very focused and ready to race despite this being his first race of the year and he is hard to drop in the crosswinds.


Unfortunately, he crashed near the end of the stage but he seems to be relatively unscathed. This could hamper his chances tomorrow but if it becomes a race of attrition, it would be stupid to not keep an eye on the Norwegian.


Andrea Guardini is usually one of the first riders to get dropped whenever the going gets a little bit tough and so it was a surprise to find him in the front group at the end of today's stage. As is often the case, he was nowhere to be seen in the sprint as he was again badly positioned or potentially had his opportunity taken away due to the crash in the end.


Nonetheless, it is testament to some solid form that he made the front selection. He won't do so if the race is really hard but if a bigger group arrives at the finish, he could be there. Again he will have to overcome his bad positioning and he is likely to finish outside the top 10. As he proved when he came fast from behind to take 3rd on the final stage in Dubai, however, he is one of the very few who has the top speed to beat Greipel. Showing some solid form, Guardini could take a surprise win in the Qatari desert.


For the second day in a row, put joker is Aidis Kruopis. The Lithuanian is another pure sprinter who is usually one of the first to get dropped on the climbs. Having raced in Belgium in the first part of his career, however, he knows how to handle the wind. When he made his race debut with Orica-GreenEDGE in 2012, he excelled in the crosswinds and he will be eager to find back that strength after a disappointing 2013 season. His team has a lot of faith in his speed as they again showed today when they chased hard to bring back the break. In the end, Kruopis could only manage 13th and he is often boxed in near the finish. However, both he and his Orica-GreenEDGE team showed some solid form today and there is a good chance that he will again make the selection. Things need to come together for him to win but he certainly has the speed to be up there.


CyclingQuotes' stage winner pick: Andre Greipel

Other winner candidates: Tom Boonen, Arnaud Demare

Outsiders: Barry Markus, Alexander Kristoff, Andrea Guardini

Joker: Aidis Kruopis



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