Tour of Qatar guide

Last Updated: 06/02/14 5:54pm

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The Tour of Qatar takes place on flat but exposed roads

The Tour of Qatar takes place on flat but exposed roads

Sky Bet

Fresh from basking in the warmth of Australia and Argentina, the world's best cycling teams head to the Gulf for another dose of sunshine at the Tour of Qatar (February 9-14).

Now a firmly established stopping point on the early-season schedule, the tiny Arabian state's pan-flat roads will once again provide a haven for sprinters.

However, the 2014 edition has also lured a selection of time-trial specialists, as it includes only the second individual test against the clock in the race's 14-year history.

With Tour de France organisers ASO taking care of logistics, the Tour of Qatar's stature continues to grow and has duly attracted another top-class field.

The race takes place over six stages, with all but the time trial on day three set to end in bunch sprints.

The stages

Stage 1: Sunday, February 9 - Al Wakra to Dukhan Beach - 135.5km

The opening day of the race takes the riders from the east coast of Qatar to the west on a flat and technically straightforward route that is almost certain to end in a sprint finish. However, there is a chance high winds could batter the riders and potentially create splits in the peloton, so staying vigilant and close to the front will be imperative.

Stage 2: Monday, February 10 - Camel Race Track to Al Khor Corniche - 160.5km

Day two starts right in the centre of Qatar, at the famous Camel Race Track, and takes a zig-zagging route up to the finish on the north-east coast. More exposed roads and several 90-degree direction changes could once again threaten to break the peloton up, but the strong likelihood is another sprint finish at the picturesque Al Khor Corniche.

Stage 3: Tuesday, February 11 - Losail Circuit to Losail Circuit - 10.9km individual time trial

Other than a 2.5km prologue in 2011, the Tour of Qatar has never had an individual time trial before, but that all changes this year, when the riders will be tested against the clock on a 10.9km circuit adjacent to the Losail race track. The course is comprised of arrow-straight sections, six 90-degree turns and three hairpin bends. Bike handling and explosiveness will therefore be key attributes on a stage that will catapult time-trial specialists into contention for overall victory.

Stage 4: Wednesday, February 12 - Dukhan to Mesaieed - 135km

Like stage one, day four is another cross-country stage, only this time from west to east. Yet again, it is a largely straight route, but the threat of high winds return and the peloton will once again have to be vigilant against splits. Mesaieed will play host to another sprint finish.

Stage 5: Thursday, February 13 - Al Zubara Fort to Madinat Al Shamal - 159km

The penultimate stage starts in the north-west corner of Qatar and heads south-east for almost 50km, before heading back in exactly the same direction. The road is straight but exposed, so teams will have to be on their guard should the gusts build up. Once back at the Al Zubara Fort, the route heads towards the northernmost town in the country for three laps of a 13km circuit that ends in a sprint to the line.

Stage 6: Friday, February 14 - Sealine Beach Resort to Doha Corniche -113.5km

The final stage is the traditional run north along the coast into Doha. Once on the Corniche, the riders must complete 10 laps of a 6km loop. With a sprint finish almost guaranteed, extra spice could be added if the leaderboard is close enough for bonus seconds to come into play.

The favourites

Omega Pharma - Quick-Step appear set to provide a strong challenge for overall victory with four-time champion Tom Boonen. However, the fact the race this year includes an individual time trial means that Fabian Cancellara could pose a serious threat.

Brit watch

Andrew Fenn (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step )
Luke Rowe (Team Sky)
Ian Stannard (Team Sky)

Key stage

The sprint stages all offer bonus seconds, but stage three's 10.9km individual time trial has the potential to open up more significant gaps in the general classification.

The jerseys

- Gold: General classification.
- Silver: Points classification.
- White: Best young rider.

Time bonuses

- 10, 6 and 4 bonus seconds will be awarded to the first three finishers on each stage.
- 3, 2 and 1 second will be awarded to the first three riders over the line at intermediate sprints.

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