Tom Boonen is officially scratched from defending his title in the Tour of Qatar starting this Sunday. Boonen fell while mountainbiking in the woods more than a week ago, and landed in the hospital after a scratch on his elbow became infected, requiring a surgical intervention. In the picture above, taken at the OPQS gala track event, you can see the bandage on his elbow. That's the offending wound.
What this means is that Mark Cavendish gets thrust straight into the spotlight as Omega Pharma's leading rider for Qatar. The 2011 World Champion has four stage wins in Qatar already on his resume, so this should make for a good chance to work on his leadout train. The bigger question is, what's going on with Tom? Winter miles are pretty precious if your big thing is the spring classics. With Cancellara healed, Sagan gaining strength (is this possible?), and a host of other challengers to his undisputed throne of last year, Boonen can't afford to miss a beat. And now, he has. But it's still pretty early, and if he's back on the bike this week, presumably he'll get himself ready by Flanders.
In happier news, RCS announced the route of Tirreno-Adriatico, and it's kind of a beast. Returning from 2012 is the visit to the Prati di Tivo ski resort, a 1400 vertical meter (1000m net gain) climb in the Apennines, totaling 14.5km at 7.1%. Vincenzo Nibali won alone there last year, and someone of his ilk can be counted on to do so again this year. Unlike most years, where the Race of the Two Seas restrains itself to one absolute mountain day, this year's event comes back for a second helping the next day. The traditional Chieti stage, featuring a tricky, hilly finale, also will climb the Passo di Lanciano. Sometimes associated with the notorious Blockhaus climb, the Passo di Lanciano is what you get if you stop climbing at the 1300-meter mark and descend for Chieti (or Lettomanoppello, if you went in reverse of the T-A course). Obviously nothing good happens if you keep climbing up the Blockhaus, but even if you stop at the Passo di Lanciano, you've still just done about 17km with most of it over 8%.
Maybe the classics guys will opt for Paris-Nice this year.