After six testing days beneath the Qatari sun, Niki Terpstra was crowned 2015’s Tour of Qatar Champion, successfully defending his title of 2014 when taking the lead with a barnstorming time trial victory on the third day. Organisers assembled an impressive cast of riders from the upper echelons of cycling; echelons which would immediately become the daily worry for riders. Seemingly endless strips of silky tarmac bisected an equally infinite desert, assuring the peloton of zero protection once the chaos inducing crosswinds stirred. Rainbows of riders soon stretched diagonally across the road in sequence, seeking shelter off the shoulder of the next man. Repeating this frantic battle every day drained the legs of the pure sprinters and saw general classification prospects lose time with ease; the message for those wishing to take home a stage win or jersey was simple – stay out of trouble. After a race as tiring mentally as it was physically, who were the winners and losers of the Tour of Qatar 2015?
Niki Terpstra defended his title from last year thanks to a terrific individual time trial performance and plenty of guile to survive the chaotic days surfing echelons. His win makes it 8 overall victories for Quick Step sponsored teams in the last 10 editions of the Tour of Qatar, a race which has only been running since 2002. Ensuring he finished with the main contenders for the most part, the Dutchman pulled an upset when beating both Fabian Cancellara and Bradley Wiggins against the clock on Stage 3. Having gained the leader’s jersey, the main threat was the sudden purple patch Alexander Kristoff found himself in; taking time bonuses to reduce Terpstra’s lead to 11 seconds before the final day’s criterium. Unfortunately for the tough Norwegian, the sheer pace of the city centre race proved too unrelenting, eventually blunting any hope of stealing the overall victory from Terpstra in dramatic fashion.
The man who truly grabbed the race by the horns was Alexander Kristoff, leaving Qatar with three stage victories and a big statement to those who will face him in the Spring Classics soon. When everyone else would rather be sitting at home watching the racing, Kristoff has a knack for making the most of the least ‘bike friendly’ weather you find on the WorldTour. After taking Milan-San Remo in the face of 294km’s worth of icy rain and now finding three victories in the midst of the crosswind carved sandstorms; the Norwegian’s herculean achievements assure him the title of ‘Hard Man’ yet again.
Peter Sagan finds himself stuck in no man’s land often when facing the final kilometres of a race; not fast enough for the pure sprinters and not strong enough in the classics thus far. Riding Qatar will have instilled greater confidence (if even possible) to Sagan that he is finding form once again however. Over the six stages (excluding Stage 3’s ITT) of Qatar, Peter Sagan finished 4th, 4th, 2nd, 2nd and 4th; another example of the consistency which secured him the green jersey at 2014’s Le Tour despite no wins. Sadly a win did elude him during his time in Qatar too, but by displaying such strength and opportunism like Alexander Kristoff in the midst of treacherous conditions, it would be wise to pencil Peter Sagan in for his first Classics win this year.
It was always going to be an acutely observed transition as Adam Blythe made his return to the WorldTour; parting ways with UK’s NFTO Racing and joining Orica-GreenEDGE. His debut in Qatar will have pleased plenty at the Australian team, settling any qualms as to his ability to operate at the very top of racing. Blythe came away with 4th, 5th, 6th & 7th as his top placings during the six days and should feel confident of taking victories this season with the support afforded to him by Orica-GreenEDGE
Spokenforks stated that the likes of Sam Bennet could benefit in the second half of the race as the big name sprinters suffered; the accumulative effects of challenging for the win everyday taking its toll. Bennet appeared to identify this opportunity perfectly, surviving in the middle of the pack for the majority of the week. He was last man home on Stage 5, saving himself before striking on the final day with a blistering sprint and taking a major victory early in the season.
Poland has been experiencing a renaissance as of late and the 29 year old Maciej Bodnar decided Qatar was his chance to get in on the action too. Having watched his time only bettered by Terpstra and Cancellara, before being equaled by Bradley Wiggins in the time trial; Bodnar was in a position to think of securing a sound GC position. Though some contenders lost ground through misfortune, Bodnar showed an ability to steer clear of trouble and eventually cut his deficit to 6 seconds; finishing second behind Terpstra in the overall.
Marcel Kittel – was he even there? Across the six stages in Qatar the German powerhouse failed to score a top 50 finish on a single day. Most damningly of all perhaps is that fact his ‘top’ finish of 56th came in the individual time trial. Though these early season races are not at the top of his list in terms of targets, it has been surprising to see him yet to contest a sprint at both the Santos Tour Down Under and now the Tour of Qatar too. Peaking for 2015’s Le Tour de France will be the goal; expect the usual battle with ‘Mr.Consistent’ Peter Sagan to play out there once again.
French hopes of taking stage wins here were high with the participation of FDJ’s Arnaud Démare and Cofidis’ Nacer Bouhanni (and his ‘yet to click’ lead-out train.) Finishing Stage 1 in third appeared to be a good indicator for French Champion Démare, but he would only finish in the top ten once again in Qatar. His compatriot Bouhanni fared similarly in the windswept race, posting his highest placing (3rd) in the relatively simple criterium on Stage 6. Cofidis’ issues with creating an efficient lead-out train, in order to deliver Bouhanni into race winning positions, are being monitored closely by the press. Though many would suggest Qatar was a predominantly negative experience for Bouhanni and his team, his lack of form is more likely a product of difficult conditions before reaching the finish however. The young Frenchmen needs not to worry much about creating the perfect team in order to win though; his impressive talent to surf wheels in a hectic finish has won him Grand Tour victories in the absence of a well drilled team already.
It has not been a sparkling start to Lars Boom’s move to Astana since leaving the now defunct Team Belkin and Qatar failed to offer any contrast to this. Having suffered like a dog with sickness and echelons, the commaisaires would later decided his efforts to stay with the diminishing peloton on Stage 5 involved seeking shelter behind cars. Boom was subsequently disqualified from the race and is yet to show much form ahead of a testing Classics campaign.