Tom Boonen’s rivals would be forgiven for having little confidence in their ability to claim a share of the victories at the Tour of Qatar, which kicks off this Sunday.
But the 27-year-old Belgian’s formidable record in Qatar, which include four stage wins last year, is not going to stop them trying.
Boonen, the 2005 world champion, has notched up a total of 11 stage wins over the years in the Emirate making him the man to beat over six days of “nervous” racing.
With some of Europe’s top teams eager to try out new gear, new additions to their respective teams – while aiming for sprint victories over the mainly flat and wind-lashed roads of Qatar – there will be plenty of scope for action.
So much so that one of Boonen’s lieutenants at Quick Step, sprint lead-out man Gert Steegmans, has decided against racing in Qatar this year.
“The Tour of Qatar is a bit too nervous a race for me at this stage of the year. It’s fast, and there’s usually a few elbows flying around (in the sprints),” said the Belgian.
While Boonen will be hoping that fellow Belgian Wilfried Cretskens eases into Steegmans’ role, the big one-day race specialist will be hoping to test his form for what he hopes will be another fruitful season.
“It’s always good to know as early as possible in the season just how fast you are going,” said Boonen, who went on to win the Tour de France’s green jersey for the points competition last year.
Boonen’s job this year should be made easier in the absence of Milram duo Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel, but that will simply pave the way for some other sprinters to try and break Boonen’s winning habit.
Belgians Nico Eeckhout and Greg Van Avermaet, Italian Francesco Chicci, Germany’s Sebastian Siegler and up and coming Australian Mitch Docker will be out to stop Boonen from dominating.
New Zealand sprinter Julian Dean, who has spent recent years helping Thor Hushovd in his pursuit of the Tour’s green jersey, will be out to show he has winning credentials of his own as part of the all new Slipstream outfit which also includes Magnus Backstedt and David Millar.
Sunday – 1st stage: Doha – Doha, 6 km team time trial
Monday – 2nd stage: Al Zubarah – Doha Golf Club, 137.5 km
Tuesday – 3rd stage: Camel Race Track – Qatar Foundation, 147.5 km
Wednesday – 4th stage: Khalifa Stadium – Al Khor Corniche, 131.5 km
Thursday – 5th stage: Al Khor Academy – Al Khor Corniche, 170 km
Friday – 6th stage: Al Wakra – Doha Corniche, 120 km
Quick Step, Silence-Lotto, Drapac, Slipstream, TopSport Vlaanderen, Saunier Duval Scott, BMC, Bouygues Telecom, Credit Agricole, Cofidis, Iranian national team, Lampre, Liquigas, Milram, Skill, Doha Team, and Tinkoff Credit Systems.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008