The road to the rainbow jersey starts in Qatar
With the road season’s first action in South America and Down Under done and dusted, the women’s peloton now travels to the Arabic desert for the eighth edition of the Ladies Tour of Qatar.
Traditionally a race for the sprinters, this edition will be a special event this year as the World Road Championships will be held on similar courses in and around Doha, Qatar at the end of the 2016 season. The Ladies Tour of Qatar therefore serves as the dress-rehearsal for the championships and unique opportunity for the riders to get familiar with the flat, fast and wind-swept roads.
About the race:
There aren’t too many options for an interesting yet safe route for a peloton to go through Qatar, so the tour will visit well-known cities and cultural locations from previous editions. The Ladies Tour of Qatar kicks off tomorrow at the Katara Cultural Village, not far north from Doha International Airport. The first stages catches a glimpse of the World Championships circuit, which makes it an interesting stage to watch. The finish of the stage is at Qatar University, just a stone’s throw away from Katara Cultural Village, but it will take the peloton 97 kilometres and lots of loops to get there.
In stage 2 the peloton travels outside of Doha, with the start at the Sheikh Faisal Museum, a Qatari fort with a distinctive and breath-taking exterior. It’s always a pleasure to see the architectural highlights of the country, which are usually chosen for the start or finish location of a stage. At 120 kilometres, Stage 2 is the longest day of the tour.
Stage 3 is an exact copy of stage 2 from last year. From the start at the Al Zubarah Fort, the peloton rides to Madinat al Shamat, where the riders will cross the finish line four times before sprinting for the stage win. This was the only stage last year where a small group managed to break and stay away from the peloton, so who knows what this year’s edition might bring.
The fourth and final stage is a short, 73-kilomettres completed through 11 laps right along the shores of Doha Bay.
Fifteen teams will race in the Qatari desert, among all but one of the top 10 ranking UCI teams. Cervélo Bigla – ranked fifth- was served an early blow when they did not get an invite to the race.
Other teams to line up in the desert include Ale Cipollini, Lares-Waowdeals, UnitedHealthcare, China Chongming-Liv, and the national team selections of France, Italy and Australia.
Each team is allowed to bring six riders, which means the peloton will be made up of 90 riders at the first stage. The start list can be found here.
Who to watch:
Among the list of confirmed riders, two have won the tour before.
Having won four out of the seven previous editions, Hitec’s Kirsten Wild will be the woman to beat. Although her primary focus in 2016 is to qualify for Rio on the track and not the road, she is in super form after taking the omnium track World Cup 2015-2016.
It is not often that Wild finds a Worlds road course this well suited to her strengths. After missing the Ladies Tour of Qatar in 2015, Wild is back to test out her legs in the flat desert area, which might become the stage for her return to the Road World Champhionships in October.
The other past winner is fellow Dutchwoman Ellen van Dijk, representing the Boels-Dolmans team. Last year, Boels-Dolmans dominated the tour, winning three of the four stages and putting two riders on the General Classification podium with Lizzie Armitstead in first and Van Dijk in third. Armitstead has decided to skip Qatar this year but Van Dijk will have the support of a strong team behind her.
In addition to Van Dijk and Wild, returning stage winners include Chloe Hosking and Amy Pieters (Wiggle-High5), along with Annalisa Cucinotta (Ale Cipollini) and Trixi Worrack (Canyon-SRAM).
Pieters has been Wild’s super-domestique in 2013 and 2014, and managed to finish second in the GC in 2014.
Pieters now rides for Wiggle-High5 and with both her and Chloe Hosking on the line-up, the team will have a serious duo to battle with Wild for stage wins and the overall victory.
Looking at the start list, it will probably be Wiggle-High5, Boels-Dolmans and Team Hitec that stand the best chance in winning a stage or taking the overall win, although we must not forget Ale Cipollini’s sprinter Annalisa Cucinota, who won the first stage in 2014 and who was been doing very well last season.
Outsider teams include Canyon-SRAM, with Lisa Brennauer and Elena Cecchini, the Rabo/Liv team, where Dutch champion Lucinda Brand has a serious chance of taking a stage win, and Cylance Pro Cycling, with super fast finisher Shelley Olds on the start list.
How to follow the Ladies Tour of Qatar
The official hashtag of the race is #LTOQ2016, use it on Twitter to get the latest updates from the race. Owen Rogers and Felix Matthis will be present to do some live tweeting as well (Owen warning us that he might forget to add the official hashtag), so give them a follow on Twitter.
In previous years, a livestream of the race was available, but it seems we won’t be having the pleasure of live images this year. But VoxWomen will provide video updates from Qatar and of course Ella will be providing you with a daily recap of the race.