Those Belgians get everywhere in the early season, and the Tour of Qatar is no exception. More from the race from our temporary Middle-East correspondent, Procycling deputy editor Ellis Bacon...
With its sun and sand, Qatar is about as far from the hail and cobbles of early-season Belgium as it’s possible to be. But with Belgian superstar Tom Boonen winning Monday’s second stage of the Tour of Qatar following his Belgian Quick Step team’s victory on Sunday’s team time trial, it got me marvelling at just how dominant the nation is at this event. Turns out there are 26 Belgian riders here, which is a massive percentage of the 133-rider field – just under 20 percent.
Of course, there are two ways to explain this: firstly, that Belgian riders and teams tend to dominate the spring Classics, and many of them are therefore here honing their form with some racing following a hard winter of training.
Secondly, however, is the fact that the Tour of Qatar has none other than Belgian legend Eddy Merckx working as a consultant on the race. Having worked on it since its inception in 2002, ‘The Cannibal’ has always been able to draw top Belgian names, and Boonen and his Quick Step pals are happy to oblige.
Quick Step have a fierce record and reputation at this race, winning the past two editions, doing so through brute force and textbook Belgian tactics on the long, flat roads and their accompanying crosswinds.
And Slipstream’s Magnus Backstedt witnessed the full force of the squad’s domination today.
“It was just constant crosswinds, so it was bloody fast. I heard we were going 53kph after just five kilometres; Quick Step were by far the strongest guys,” the big Swede grimaced after hauling himself home in 11th place, just 20 seconds off Boonen’s winning time.
The stage’s average speed ended up as a phenomenal 55.5kph, with seven of Quick Step’s eight riders finishing in the top 16 in a race blown apart by the team’s strong-arm tactics.
You want more stats, you say? Righty-ho, then: how about the fact that there are even more young riders – riders born on or after January 1, 1983 – than there are Belgian riders in the race – a massive 53, in fact. It means that the battle for the blue jersey is going to be harder fought than ever, with Backstedt’s Slipstream team-mate Chris Sutton and Greg Van Avermaet of Silence-Lotto looking like the two most likely to separate themselves from the rest and battle it out going by their form so far.
More? Well, talking about Swedes just before has made me realise how hungry I am, so how about this: I haven’t eaten in 10.25 hours. That makes it high time for dinner in my book. It’s pretty unique here at the Tour of Qatar in that the journalists eat with the teams – which means more Belgians, including Procycling snapper Tim De Waele.
Wonder what it’ll be tonight. Moules-frites?