First, we had great coverage from the beIN channel, with at least an hour every day - and because they usually show football, of my goodness, the number of streams!!! Here are the last few kilometres from each stage - with links to results, reports and photos, in case you missed it.
UPDATE! Little video following Liv-Shimano, with Marijn de Vries talking about the race:
Video interviews with various riders:
How did this race compare to 2013?
The interesting thing for me was that the other teams seemed to have learned a lot from last year's race, and were really pushing things. The courses are very, very basic, with long, straight, wide roads (only five corners on the first stage route!) so the deciding factors are which way the wind is blowing and how hard, and how the teams choose to race. Stage 4 had lots of headwind, and they were racing at 20kph at one point - and that including attacking and going full gas! Everyone knew that Kirsten Wild was the absolute threat, and it was clear that they'd been planning how to try to beat her.
Teams like ORICA-AIS and Specialized-lululemon were particularly active, especially the Speclulus, who didn't have a dedicated sprinter, and so were aiming to win with breakaways. It was such a interesting race to watch to get an idea of what the new 2014 teams will be like - and the rally big difference for me was that while other teams had upped their game from last year, to try to beat Wild, so had Liv-Shimano....
Last year, Wild's Argos-Shimano were giving her support, especially on the final stage, but out in the breakaways it was Wild by herself, in a one-woman domination. This year she was just as strong, but the team around her were much stronger too, getting out in the breaks with her and working their socks off for her. I was especially happy to see Sara Mustonen demonstrating her brilliant sprint-domestique talents, chasing down attacks and leading Wild out to win the intermediate sprint points - it's so good to see her back with a top team, I hope she has a great year! And then on Stage 2, Liv's plans really took off, as Amy Pieters got into the final break with Anna van der Breggan (Rabobank-Livk), Inga Cilvinaite (RusVelo) and Charlotte Becker (Wiggle Honda). This was so interesting to watch - Pieters with her excuse not to work because of Wild's gold-jersey, but her fast sprint, Becker's ITT power and AvdB and Cilvinaite's tactical sense but need to escape to win.... In the end, Cilvinaite attacked first and Pieters used it as the perfect launch pad for a long solo effort that got faster and faster as she approached the line, and she won with such a great look of passionate emotion. I couldn't believe this was Pieters' first UCI-ranked win, she's been winning Best Young Rider jerseys for years.... but she is still only 22, and it seems like the upward trajectory she was on last year, when she won podium spots at the World Cups at ChongMing Island and the Vårgårda road race, is only going to continue!
After Stage 2, Liv-Shimano were laughing - with Pieters leading the race and known for her attacking and breakaway skills, and Wild second on GC, continuing to hunt down all the intermediate sprint bonifications and take on the bunch sprints, surrounded by a team who could chase anything down and attack themselves as the feeling took them. It was a total walk-over, and Pieters and Wild seemed genuinely happy whichever one won, as long as it was in the team. On paper it might seem as if it was the same result as last year, but how Wild got there was very different indeed - and it bodes very, very well for Liv-Shimano's year.
What does this mean for next year's race?
I really thought that the teams that had been out in Australia for their summer racing would have the advantage here, but it didn't pan out that way - Chloe Hosking was always there, but she's always there in this race anyway, it didn't seem to make a difference that she'd been in Aus - here's to a great '14 for her, because that was great start. What was interesting were the attack teams. it felt as though the wind wasn't on their side at all this year, but they really animated the race and made Wild and Liv fight for it. What is interesting about Qatar is that riders have to be on their toes all the time, if they want the GC - Wiggle missed out on Stage 1's break, and sprint stars Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) and Shelley Olds (Alé-Cipollini) didn't make the break on Stage 2 that went in the first 10km and they were out of the overall. Watching the riders in the wind, working the echelons was beautiful - and the moment on Stage 3 where the last big breakaway group shredded in the wind was heartbreaking for the riders who missed it, but showed how much skill you have to have to win in the wind. Chloe Hosking (Hitec) who finished third, and Emma Johansson (ORICA), Trixi Worrack (Spec-lulu) and Melissa Hoskins (ORICA) in 4th, 5th and 6th, had made every break, and fought really hard all race. It's an interesting top 10, for such a flat, sprinty race - Wild, Hosking, Hoskins and the Italian National Team's Elena Cecchini are sprinters, and Emma Johansson is good at everything, but I'd class Pieters, Worrack and Tiffany Cromwell as attack-queens and opportunist riders who win in the hilly races, and Slappendel the Classics type. So although Wild has won four of the six editions of this race (and as Velofocus pointed out, 45% of all the stages ever!) it's not guaranteed for the sprinters... when Judith Arndt won in 2012, she did it from a breakaway she was in with Worrack - maybe next year one of those attacks will stick?
What does it mean for the 2014 season?
Obviously, as an FSA Virtual Directeur Sportif, Amy Pieters is on my shortlist, because that was great racing, and as I said above, it looks like her upward trajectory is going to be fun to watch. And it was interesting, because while Rabobank's team was nowhere near their best (Thalita de Jong had arrived in Qatar just 2 days after coming 8th at the Cyclocross Worlds!), watching Slappendel and Van der Breggan race together was a delight. I've said it before, but Van der Breggan is going to be one of THE riders to watch this year, her results were so good last year on Sengers, a very small team - what can she do with the expert support of the Rabos?
Specialized-lululemon intrigued me all race, because oh my goodness, HOW many attackers have they got this year? Watching Cromwell and Worrack keep on fighting, and coordinating their attacks in such beautiful ways made me long for the Classics. I have always been a fan of Lisa Brennauer, and I'm wondering which way she'll develop too - will we see her in the bunch sprints, or out on the attack? Are Specialized all about the Classics and GCs this year, or will they be in the sprints too? I have no idea, and I can't wait to find out!
I've always loved how the women's peloton use social media, and Tiff Cromwell had a really fun innovation that I hope carries on through the year - she took over Bicycling Magazine's instagram for the race, and used it so well. More of that please! This race is always good for blogs and tweets, and race reports like this one from ORICA's Jessie Maclean on Cycling Tips - but it already feels like we're going to get even more social media this year, and I can't wait.
Camels and more
More things you might like from the race - Cyclingnews interviews with Shelley Olds, on recovering from injuries last year and her new team and with Giorgia Bronzini on using Qatar to build for the Track World Championships later this month; Chloe Hosking's blog on spending time with Qatar's first ever women's cycling team and learning from how they're developing women's cycling, and a blog from Qatar team member Arafa Ali about the day - and a report on that on Cyclingnews; Chloe again on what we might expect from the 2016 Cycling World Championships in Qatar; and her team-mate Lauren Kitchen blogging about her first big race with Hitec. And one more Chloe-based thingy.... in response to endless commentator mistakes over the years between Chloe HosKING and Melissa HosKINS, I've thought of a mnemonic to help - The Ss are Melissas!
As always, please add anything you liked, or anything you thought about the race into the comments. And I can't write about Qatar without including camel photos - so I'll leave you with my favourites from this year's race....