Cavendish and Boonen are the Heroes of Qatar

Tim Renowden Columnist

By Tim Renowden, Tim Renowden is a Roar Expert

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    New world champion Mark Cavendish of Britain. AP Photo/Polfoto, Thomas Sjoerup

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    Over the six stages of last week’s Tour of Qatar, there was not a single climb. It was therefore no surprise that the race was dominated by sprinters.

    Tom Boonen, supported by a powerful and well-drilled Omega Pharma Quickstep team, collected his fourth overall victory in the race, along with stages one and four.

    Team Sky’s ‘Manx Missile’ Mark Cavendish claimed two stages in his debut race for his new team, proving that he can win without his former lead-out man Mark Renshaw.

    This was not a race for the cycling romantics. For the casual cycling fan, two of the most captivating features of professional road racing are the many decades of tradition, and the breathtaking scenery. The romance and sheer aesthetic joy of a brightly-coloured column of riders snaking through an Alpine pass, or across the fields and vineyards of Europe. The monasteries and chateaux. The cobbles.

    The Tour of Qatar has only been running since 2002. It’s hot, it’s windy, and there’s lots of sand. The race is flat as a pancake and has scenery you could draw one-handed with an Etch-a-Sketch. It’s not a race for the traditionalists, but it’s worth a look if you want an early peak at who’s in form for the spring classics.

    Boonen, a classics specialist, has won the Tour of Qatar three times previously, in 2006, 2008 and 2009, was second in 2007 and third in 2010. In two of those winning years, 2008 and 2009, he also won the legendary Paris-Roubaix single-day classic, the ‘Hell of the North’.

    When Boonen is in good form in Qatar, he’s likely to be a serious threat in the European spring. His victory in stage four, defeating classics rivals Fabian Cancellara and Juan Antonio Flecha after a long breakaway in difficult conditions, was particularly impressive.

    Other sprinters (and their teams) used the Tour of Qatar to fine tune their lead-out trains and develop team tactics before the really important racing starts. Many top sprinters have new teams or new team-mates, requiring new approaches.

    The sight of Cavendish in good early-season form will please British cycling fans. In his best form, Cavendish is virtually unbeatable, but it was important to calm the new-team nerves with a win. Two wins was even better. A crash in the final stage was an unfortunate finish to the race, but he suffered no major injury.

    Last year’s overall winner, Australia’s Mark Renshaw, is one who has yet to fully click with his new Rabobank squad. Renshaw managed to get onto the podium in the final stage, but Cavendish’s crash in the final kilometres had left the peloton in some disarray, so it’s difficult to read too much improvement into the result.

    GreenEDGE showed only moderate success in the race, with Aidis Kruopis finishing third in stage three, and ninth overall; Allan Davis picking up some top-ten finishes; and Baden Cooke twelfth overall.

    This week’s Tour of Oman promises another glimpse at the form guide before racing begins in Europe at the end of February.

    Tim Renowden
    Tim Renowden

    Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. An ex-runner, now a club grade bike racer, Tim tweets about sport at @megabicicleta.

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    The Crowd Says (8)

    • February 14th 2012 @ 9:19am
      John said | February 14th 2012 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      The Tour of Qatar is a funny one – I reckon I’d be able to keep up with the lack of climbs 😉 It’s no Tour Down Under… I wonder who Qatar pays to have the racing there…

      But yes, GreenEDGE didn’t show much, nor did Renshaw. But, early doors, as the English commentators say.

      • Columnist

        February 14th 2012 @ 10:00am
        Tim Renowden said | February 14th 2012 @ 10:00am | ! Report

        Yeah, it’s hard to get too excited about Qatar. It doesn’t strike me as a place with a particularly strong cycling culture, but evidently the powers-that-be have decided that it’s part of the expansion plans outside Europe.

        • February 14th 2012 @ 11:13am
          HardcorePrawn said | February 14th 2012 @ 11:13am | ! Report

          I’m sure that a cynic would say that the powers-that-be have been handsomely rewarded for their decision to stage a tour there too, just as FIFA’s cronies probably were when appointing Qatar the hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup.
          A less cynical person might argue that the decision to stage events in places such as Qatar allow the administrative bodies, with the back-handers that they no doubt receive, to continue bank-rolling their less lucrative events.
          But I have to agree, it’s not the most interesting place to have a tour.

          • Columnist

            February 14th 2012 @ 11:41am
            Tim Renowden said | February 14th 2012 @ 11:41am | ! Report

            I don’t necessarily have a problem with the UCI or WorldTour staging events in countries where there is no tradition in cycling, you’ve gotta start somewhere after all. Anything that expands the global audience for cycling is a Good Thing in my book, and if the odd cross-subsidy helps the sport stay viable while Europe is haemorrhaging cash it’s even better.
            Perhaps they should ask the Qatari government to build a couple of artificial mountains or something, though 😉

            • Editor

              February 14th 2012 @ 11:46am
              Tristan Rayner said | February 14th 2012 @ 11:46am | ! Report

              An airconditioned route over some 150kms of artificial Pyrenees would shut us all up! 🙂

    • February 14th 2012 @ 12:27pm
      buck said | February 14th 2012 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

      Having just returned from a brief stay in Qatar the main issue in holding back a sports culture really developing seems to be the lack of people and the fact that about 70% are migrant workers from Nepal, India, Pakistan etc, who presumably have no interest in helping to develop one. On the other hand being there for national day late last year – December 17, the atmosphere with masses of people on the streets, migrants and locals alike, was great and If the Qatari officials could get more people to come out for the cycling event in Doha it may trigger some more interest in the sport.

      incidently, i love the the scenery of Qatari deserts right next to the sea, as well as the circuits of Doha, but I have to admit it is nothing as spectaular as the Tour of Oman which i have become a massive fan of in recent years – via Eurosport. THe public come out more for this and the mountain scenery is stunning and worth watching … oh and the hills do make for a more interesting race than the flat Qatar as well.

    • February 14th 2012 @ 9:59pm
      Jamie said | February 14th 2012 @ 9:59pm | ! Report

      I enjoyed this comment you made
      It’s hot, it’s windy, and there’s lots of sand. The race is flat as a pancake and has scenery you could draw one-handed with an Etch-a-Sketch.
      I love my riding, but for me there is no interest in a bike race without a challenge for the all the riders. Bring on Europe…

      • February 15th 2012 @ 11:59am
        HardcorePrawn said | February 15th 2012 @ 11:59am | ! Report

        It’s odd isn’t it? So many Australian-based aficionados of the TDF will use a day for the sprinters as an excuse to have an early night and prepare themselves for the mountain stages. But in Qatar they’ve organised an entire race devoted to the flat, it must impact upon their viewing figures I would have thought.

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