While professional cycling continues to expand across the globe, attracting an increasingly diverse audience, landscapes previously untouched by the technicolour peloton are now becoming a common sight. However, there is a downside (for the riders at least); as along with the tapping of new lands comes the discovery of environments never raced upon for good reason.
The Tour of Qatar returns to 2015 on the back of its 10 years’+ success, having seen the race won by Niki Terpstra last year. Glamourous and exotic, the attraction was evident when drawing a stellar field once again in 2014, but this year has already proven to be a new hell in the opening three days. Vicious crosswinds created an ever shifting silk carpet of sand which slickened the already flawless tarmac; shattering the peloton as riders panicked to join the resulting echelons. It might be a cliché, but echelons do not always mean a race is won in that moment: rather often leaving contenders’ ambitions of winning cast out on the scything gale which etched the diagonal battalions across the road.
- Appearing at the front of affairs to take a rare victory, José Joaquín Rojas was the winner on Stage 1; taking advantage of messers Boonen and Démare’s tired legs after a tough opening day.
- Alexander Kristoff only required the first day as his season opening dry run, before securing his first win of 2015 on Stage 2. Benefiting from a tortuous 194.5km of crosswinds, Kristoff displayed the indomitable mettle which earned him Milan-San Remo last year. When quizzed as to the day’s weather, the strongman bragged – “In Norway I live at the coast. We even have more wind there.”
- With the important week’s time trial falling on the third day, the arena was set for a showdown between Fabian Cancellara and (recently crowned) World Time Trial Champion Bradley Wiggins. Sadly, the script had not been sent to Niki Terpstra; the Dutchman deciding to overhaul both his rivals to win by 8 and 9 seconds respectively to take the leaders’ jersey.
- Almost overshadowing the flying Dutchman’s efforts on the day was that of Team Sky’s Ian Stannard (registering an impressive 5th place time) who finished only 10 seconds off Terpstra’s pace; subsequently moving him up to third in the general classification.
- After Stage 2, Marca conducted an interview with Alejandro Valverde as to his experience of the local weather. Opening with the understated “This is inhuman” response, the Movistar team-leader expanded further: “In the first stage we saw that this was a bit hard, but today was… I have not seen anything like this. It’s not just the wind, the sand too, you can not even breathe or anything … Awesome.” Though delirium had not set in at this point after the finish, the Spanish climber stated he …”would rather do the Tourmalet five times.” Go on then.
- Bradley Wiggins shipped time on both Stages 1 & 2, entering the time trial with an accumulative deficit of 10:01 to (then leader) Alexander Kristoff. Failing to survive the maelstrom present when fighting to bridge across to the forming echelons the source of his time losses’. Wiggins will need to display greater determination and grit in order to win his desired Paris-Roubaix later this Spring.
- So far in this edition of the Tour of Qatar, the top tier sprinters have found life very hard work beyond Alexander Kristoff’s bold performance earlier in the week. The likes of Marcel Kittel, Nacer Bouhanni and Sacha Modolo have all failed to navigate the echelons, marshall their sprint trains or survive the pace in a variety of ways. The remaining stages might come as the perfect opportunity for Arnaud Démare, Adam Blythe, Andrea Guardini and Sam Bennet to all open their accounts in 2015, benefiting from the unpredictable conditions seen so far.