John Lelangue of the Qatar Cycling Federation set straight the record for local media.
The 2015 Ladies Tour of Qatar would be a fine event, he insisted, despite the absence of four-time winner, Kirsten Wild. Local reporters suspected a fall in the level of competition with the Dutch rider’s absence.
Lelangue is correct, of course. The field assembled in Doha would be the envy of any women’s race in the world. Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolman), Tiffany Cromwell (Veloico-SRAM), Wiggle-Honda’s Chloe Hosking and Giorgia Bronzini head a talent-filled start list.
“Everything did not depend on Kirsten Wild,” Lelangue told Rouleur. “I think the event can be even more intense without her. And even if she was here, she wouldn’t have been guaranteed to win. With such a race, anything can happen: a puncture, an echelon, a bad moment, and then it’s gone.”
Time bonuses could be critical in a race often decided by fine margins and in which a time trial is absent. Two sprint bonuses will be held in each stage, with bonus seconds available to the first, second, and third placed finishers: three, two, and one second respectively.
Further rewards are available on the finish line. A 10-second time bonus for the winner will be a mighty incentive, but this is unlikely to be a race where a single stage victory will provide a defendable lead in the GC. Breakaway victories are rare in the desert races. Bike handling skill and tactical acumen - especially the mastery of echelons - are likely to provide greater dividends.
Lelangue is predicting an open race, and one in which sprinters and puncheurs will succeed. Step forward, L Armitstead of Otley. Armitstead is a fighter, and her trademark aggression should find its rewards in the sweeping desert crosswinds.
“I like her way of racing,” Lelangue confided. “She is one of those Classic-kind of riders who is punchy and attacking. I like to see her racing. She is one of the riders who is doing a lot for women’s cycling.”
Today’s 98.5km stage runs from Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art on Qatar’s east coast to Dukhan Beach on the west. There is a gathering sense of excitement in the hotel in which the teams are based and an eagerness to begin. Light winds are predicted throughout the stage.