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Tour of Qatar 2010 - The Favorites
By Lee Rodgers
Date: 2/4/2010
Tour of Qatar 2010 - The Favorites

Tour of Qatar 2010 - The Favorites
The sprinters take the center stage in Qatar in a series of high speed contests... Can Tom Boonen add a 4th victory and claim the title of Sultan of Sprint?

February is still a little too early in the season for many of the riders who have their sights set on the Giro and the Tour, but for the Classics contenders, the Tour of Qatar serves as an opportunity to flex the muscles and to show the competition how well they've dealt with the winter.

This year`s line up has some famous names and one or two new faces who we should be hearing lots about in the future. It will also give the sprinters a chance to size each other up - in particular Andre Greipel and Tyler Farrar – and the two Belgian powerhouses Boonen and Phillipe Gilbert will no doubt be watching each other closely.

Tom Boonen - Quickstep
Boonen suffered another relatively poor year by his standards (though he won Paris-Roubaix of course) and lost his focus when he tested positive for cocaine for the second time in a year (though it was judged that he hadn't actually ingested the drug). He is focused on Paris-Roubaix this year and wants a 4th victory there to cement his legacy. He has won Qatar 3 times in the past and again will be a force this year. However, this year there is a team time trial, and he could lose valuable seconds.

Andre Greipel - HTC-Columbia
The German spent much of last year in his teammate Mark Cavendish's shadow, but he still managed an impressive 20 wins. He's not yet confirmed for Qatar, but he should ride. Hot off his victory at the Tour Down Under, he has good early season form. The fact that there is a TTT this year will suit him if his HTC-Columbia perform as they usually do, and if he has the form to hold his own in the sprints as in Australia, he'll win the GC.

Phillipe Gilbert, Omega Pharma-Lotto
Finished 2009 on a high with 4 consecutive victories, and recently said that his early season form was so good that he was worried about peaking too soon. His main goal for the early season is Milan-San Remo, still over 2 months away. He isn't a sprinter, and will find it difficult to break away on the flat roads of Qatar.

Edvald Boasson-Hagen - Team Sky
This is the young man that teammate Bradley Wiggins claimed is “the most talented rider in cycling right now.” It's a lofty statement, but Wiggins is not the only person to think highly of the Norwegian. He won Ghent-Wevelgem last year as well as the Tour of Britain, in excellent style. His early season form is unknown, but he will be hoping to impress his new Team Sky director, Dave Brailsford. He also has a decent enough sprint to hold his own in the closing kilometers.

Heinrich Haussler - Cervélo TestTeam
 rider Haussler had a great year in 2009, who can forget the sprint for the line at Milan -Sanremo? Hausller enjoys training in the cold and wet of Europe, he handles the late winter and early spring months well. Whether his Cervelo Test Team will be strong enough to not lose too many valuable seconds in the TTT is another question.

Gerald Ciolek - Team Milram
The German sprinter can't be counted out in the hunt for a stage win. The team is eager to get started with Ralf Grabsch calling the shots with veterans Björn Schröder and Peter Wrolich supporting Ciolek in his season debut. The team is backed by the new Milram signings, Roger Kluge, Roy Sentjens and Wim de Vocht and the talented Niki Terpstra.

"We have prepared well and are looking forward to our first racing,“ said Gerald Ciolek about the season start in Qatar. "I have trained a lot with this group over the winter. The three newcomers were quickly integrated and we harmonized quickly both on and off the bike. Now we have to see how it works out in a race, to start successfully in the season."

Tyler Farrar - Garmin-Slipstream:
The Garmin-Slipstream team is more than capable of winning the opening TTT, which would serve as a solid platform for the American to go on to win the overall. His form picked up towards the end of last year, but he second often to Mark Cavendish. Cavendish will be absent of course, but in Greipel he has another big challenge. If Farrar has the form to beat Greipel in Qatar, he will be hopeful of his chances against Cavendish when they next meet.

The Rest:
Former World champion Alessandro Ballan will be making his debut for BMC, but would have to recapture his form of a few years ago to have any chance. Fabian Cancellara may try a solo breakaway over the last few kilometers of one of the stages, and has proven to be good enough to win the odd sprint too by blitzing the sprinters with his speed over the final kilometer as he did in the tour de France while wearing the yellow jersey in 2008.

. Filippo Pozzato is another class act that rides well on the flat, but it will be too early in the season for him perhaps. The most exciting prospect to race Qatar is Taylor Phinney, whose U23 Trek-Livestrong team was invited by the organizers. He's focused on defending his pursuit title at the World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, but it will be interesting to see him riding alongside the stars of the European scene.

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