January 30, 2009 – Columbia-Highroad’s star sprinter Mark Cavendish starts his season this weekend in the Tour of Qatar, and both rider and team plan to seize the opportunity for an early season victory with both hands. Canada’s Michael Barry (Can) Columbia-Highroad is on the roster in support of Cavendish.
“Qatar offers an almost unique chance for the sprinters to shine because it’s the only stage race in the entire calendar where there are no climbs at all,” explains team sports director Valerio Piva. “It’s only natural that we should build everything around Mark.”
Apart from being the flattest stage race of the season, Qatar is one of the earliest races of the year, too, meaning that riders are ultra-motivated and almost all in good shape. But that, according to Piva, is not necessarily such a good thing.
“Everybody’s feeling very keen, everyone’s fresh, and they all want to get a good result as soon as possible. Together with the strong cross-winds, that enthusiasm can make things a bit more risky than later on in the year when everything’s a bit more settled. Crashes tend to happen more easily in the early season. Just look at what happened with Andre [Greipel, Columbia-Highroad sprinter who crashed badly in the Tour Down Under] last week.”
Qatar’s opening six kilometre team time trial on Sunday offers no special challenges, except that race regulations state that riders have to take part using normal road bikes and wheels.
“That rule was brought in because of the complicated logistics in getting time trial bikes to Qatar and it evens things out between each team,” Piva explains. “The course itself isn’t that complicated, either, just two big corners at the end of a broad highway. The time differences likely to be small. So we’re sure to have a fast, exciting race, with minimal differences between the top names all the way to the finish line.”
North American pro team Garmin-Slipstream has also sent a squad to contest this high-profile early season stage race.