Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) were set to go head-to-head at the Tour of Qatar, which starts tomorrow (Sunday February 5), but the German sprinter has had to withdraw from the race through illness.
The six-stage race in the oil rich Gulf state will witness Cavendish’s competitive debut with Team Sky, Britain’s only team in cycling’s elite WorldTour peloton.
Sky team principal, Dave Brailsford, said the entire squad had been anticipating Cavendish’s debut, adding that the mix of desert winds and bunch finishes made the Tour of Quatar a suitable debut.
“It’s Mark’s first opportunity to race with the lads and everybody’slooking forward to that. The cross winds play a real key part to the tactical side of that race and of course there’ll be sprint finishes so all-in-all it’s a good start to the season for us in Qatar,” he told Sky Sports.
Team Sky coach told the broadcaster: “Mainly for Mark it’s just getting through the race. It’s quite a dangerous race, we know that, but the workload you can get from the race is pretty key for that style of rider.”
Greipel, who raced alongside Cavendish in the collapsed HTC-Highroad squad until late 2010 when rumoured discord between the pair prompted his departure, enjoyed a spectacular start to the season, winning three stages of the Santos Tour Down Under – but the 29-year-old will now have to postpone his first clash with Cavendish in 2012.
A star-studded peloton in Qatar will include Phillipe Gilbert, making his debut for BMC Racing, and three-time Tour of Qatar winner, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
Boonen, the 2005 world road race champion, will be supported in his attempt at a fourth a victory in the desert by the Irish national road race and time trial champion, Matt Brammeier.
The RoadCyclingUK columnist made a solid start to his 2012 season at the Tour Down Under, where he rode strongly in support of Gerald Ciolek and escaped in a brave but doomed breakaway on stage three.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep sporting director, Wilfried Peeters, said his team would attempt to build on their victorious opening to the season following Levi Leipheimer’s overall victory in the Tour De San Luis and targeted at least one stage win a strong ride in the team time trial in Qatar.
He singled out the Belgian super domestique, Gert Steegmans, as a rider who could play a key role in the desert cross winds.
Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) is another of the WorldTour’s superstars scheduled to open his season in Qatar. The 2010 world time trial champion and multiple Spring Classics winner will seek to re-establish his dominance in the world’s most prestigious one-day races, and in races against the clock, after a 2011 season in which he lost his rainbow jersey to Germany’s Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and ceded the unofficial ‘King of the Classics’ title to Gilbert.
Defending champion, Mark Renshaw, another of Cavendish’s former team mates at HTC-Highroad, where he served as the Manxman’s final leadout man, will attempt to kick start his season after a low key start to his career with Rabobank at his home race, the Tour Down Under. Renshaw tweeted the day before the race that conditions in Doha were “bloody windy”, and added that he was looking forward to meeting up with former HTC team mates, Brammeier, Cavendish, and Bernie Eisel (Team Sky).
The riders will depart tomorrow from beneath the Barzan Towers on a 142.5km route to the capital and a finish at the Doha Golf Club.