THE STAGES

Sunday, January 27 Stage 1: Doha team time trial, 6km
Monday, January 28 Stage 2: Al Zubarah-Doha Golf Club, 137km
Tuesday, January 29 Stage 3: Camel race track-Qatar Foundation, 147km
Wednesday, January 30 Stage 4: Khalifa Stadium-Al Khor corniche, 131km
Thursday, January 31 Stage 5: Al Khor academy-Al Khor corniche, 170km
Friday, February 1 Stage 6: Al Wakra-Doha corniche, 120km

THE LOWDOWN

What?s the route like?
A short team time trial up the corniche road that looks out across the gulf. Just like last year, the teams are only allowed to ride their normal road bikes, a move to spare the cost of transporting two sets of bikes to the Middle East for the sake of six kilometres. Last year Quick Step won it but this time they will face a huge challenge from Slipstream, with David Millar and Magnus Backstedt in their ranks. The remaining five days take the riders in various directions into the desert. It?s flat, sandy and often very windy.

So five bunch sprints then
Probably, although last year there was a break on stage five that took almost three minutes. It is very hard to break away unless the overall contenders are willing to play ball. Last year Quick Step were in total control, winning the team time trial before Boonen won three stages. But on that fifth stage a big group went and in it was Boonen?s team-mate Cretskens. Safe in the knowledge he?d take over the lead if they stayed clear, Quick Step were happy to let it go.

It?s just a training race, really isn?t it?
You say that, but it?s not a holiday. Racing on flat roads exposed to the wind all the time can be extremely hard. There is no coasting, no downhill sections to take a rest, no rises to use as springboards with an injection of pace. It?s just pedal, pedal, pedal and hope you don?t crash.

Why?s it popular with the riders?
They spend the week in the sort of luxury hotel you can only find in Monte Carlo in Europe. It?s palatial. The racing is relaxed. There are no crowds, few journalists and it?s warm, but not too hot. The flying time to Qatar is less than a quarter of that to Australia.

What?s Qatar like then?
Doha, where the riders stay steadily developing along the lines that Dubai did a decade or so ago. The skyscrapers are going up and the western businesses and holidaymakers are being courted. The roads are ruled by maniac drivers, the hotels are luxurious, the beaches clean and beautiful and the views out to sea breathtaking. Inland it?s desert. The sight of the professional peloton flying along in a small neutralized bubble on a busy highway is most incongruous.

WHO?S RIDING

Quick Step Tom Boonen (Bel), Wilfried Cretskens (Bel)

Silence-Lotto Leif Hoste (Bel), Greg Van Avermaet (Bel), Maarten Tjallingii (Ned)

Saunier Duval Raivis Belohvosciks (Lat)

Bouygues Telecom Thomas Voeckler (Fra), Anthony Geslin (Fra)

Crédit Agricole Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra)

Cofidis Nick Nuyens (Bel), Frank Hoj (Den)

Lampre Danilo Napolitano (Ita)

Liquigas Francesco Chicchi (Ita)

Milram Christian Knees (Ger), Ralf Grabsch (Ger)

Slipstream-Chipotle David Millar (GB), Magnus Backstedt (Swe), Julian Dean (NZ), Christophe Laurent (France), Huub Duyn (Holland), Martijn Maaskant (Holland), Kilian Patour (France), Chris Sutton (Australia).

Drapac-Porsche

TopSport Vlaanderen

BMC Racing

Skil-Shimano

Tinkoff

Doha

Iran

PAST WINNERS

2007 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quick Step
2006 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
2005 Lars Michaelsen (Den) CSC
2004 Robert Hunter (RSA) Rabobank
2003 Alberto Loddo (Ita) Lampre
2002 Thorsten Wilhelms (Ger) Team Coast

TOUR OF QATAR 2008: STAGE REPORTS


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Tour of Qatar 2008