2nd-4th February 2011
At last the 2011 racing season gets underway, and after a few months where the only way to get some racing into the legs was either in mudbaths or going round and round the sort of arena where Henry V would feel more at home, some will find it a relief to step into the heat of Qatar for three days of complexion enhancement. They do say sand is good for the skin, don’t they. Is that still true when it’s blowing into your face at 80kmh.
Qatar’s not a big place, a peninsular about a hundred miles long and forty wide jutting northwards into the Persian Gulf from Saudi Arabia, so it takes some ingenuity to come up with enough stages to make a race. The highest point is just over 100 metres above the sea, so don’t expect to see a lot of climbers coming out. Some might find the flatness a bit dull, but I reckon that the sprinters deserve to have one or two Tours for themselves. Plus if the wind does blow it can make a huge difference, and last year they actually had to shorten one stage (presumably for reasons of finishing within the time limits agreed with the police etc.) afer the peloton had spent three hours riding straight in to a ridiculously strong headwind. That day Giorgia Bronzini took the stage after losing the previous day to her old lead-out Rasa Leleivyte, although Kirsten Wild eventually won the overall thanks to grabbing lots of the intermediate sprint bonuses.
This year the race is again three stages, all around 100km long. The race is organised by ASO so there is lots of useful information on their website including a downloadable pdf map and a list of prizes which is pretty generous for womens’s cycling.
The start list is strong, and even better the contenders are scattered throughout the teams, rather than all stacked in one or two. Kirsten Wild is elsewhere, but last year’s two, three and four, Giorgia Bronzini, Rasa Leleivyte and Rochelle Gilmore are all back. You should know how well Giorgia finished last season, and if you can’t remember then she’ll have a nice bright new Rainbow jersey to remind you, but one with Italians rather than Colavita trim, while those of us in Europe have yet to see if Rochelle has given herself any Bettini-style gold trim to mark her Commonwealth games medal. Beyond those look to HTC’s Chloe Hosking trying to make the most of one of the few sprint races where she doesn’t have to lead out Ina Teutenberg, and Martine Bras in her Netherlands national kit. Elsewhere it’s a chance to do a bit of Kremlin watching and try to deduce team hierarchies. Is Lizzy Armitstead the new Garmin lead sprinter? Does Nicole Cooke’s pedigree overcome Rossella Callovi’s potential and Italian-ness at Mcipollini? Can Sarah Duester sprint for herself when given the chance? Did new US DS Jackson Stewart manage to find a Dummies Guide to Dsing? Will Madeleine Sandig stay away from the snakes (and did you know that she and John Degenkolb are workmates )?
Eurosport are showing the men’s Tour of Qatar, but the women’s race looks likely to get squeezed out by coverage of the Welsh Bowling Grand Prix from Swansea. Didn’t the Simpsons have a joke about that once. And that was the sportier sort of bowls. If you find anything then please let us all know.
Race logo via www.qatarcf.org