Monday, 30 January 2012

Women's Tour of Qatar

Stage 1, 1.02.12
Camel Race Track - Al Khor Corniche (97km)
Stage 2: 2.02.12
Al Zubara Fort - Madinat Al Shamal (114.5km)
Stage 3:  3.02.12
Katara Cultural Village - Katara Cultural Village (92.5km)
Total: 304km

Stage 1
Stage 1 - click for enlargement
(Copyright GeoAtlas/ASO)
The race begins at the Ash Shahaniyah camel racing track some 34km north-west of capital city Doha (25°24'20.66"N 51°12'39.51"E), then heads south-east for 2.87km on a flat road before arriving at a junction. Here it turns north into the desert, passing a zoo and game reserve at Lekhraib after 4km before arriving at Al-Aturiyah after 12.5km. This initial section rises no more than a few metres but is very exposed, providing an introduction to desert racing for those who have not previously competed here. The remainder of the parcours is much the same; primarily on flat, open desert roads with few urban areas and gaining no more than 229m from start to end - however, much of that gain is in the form of short, steep ramps that collectively sap a rider's strength. Wind is an issue throughout a race such as this one - and in the desert, it can blast riders with sand and grit. Team Hitec's Johanne Bergseth went for a training ride on Tuesday morning, then reported on Twitter:

 Johanne Bergseth 

First ride in Qatar. I liked the tailwind until we turned..

Continuing north for 13km, riders reach a crossroads and turn left to follow an arrow-straight road north-west for 13.6km to a sub-station (25°43'31.04"N 51°10'15.93"E). Once again, the terrain is flat; but with little shelter - high temperatures and wind could make this a challenging section more than sufficient to cause early abandons. The stage's first intermediate sprint is located at the end of this road.

Beach at Al Khawr
(image credit: Martin Belam CC BY-SA 2.0)
Having turned north-east, the route proceeds 8.37km through the desert to a left turn (25°47'22.08"N 51°12'53.71"E) where the riders head east past Muzraat al-Suwairiyat. They pass two cross-roads and an army camp, then gradually downhill to the second intermediate sprint leading to the Al Shamal Road 64km from the start of the race. Here, they turn north again and continue for 5.39km to a large motorway intersection and follow the slip-road leading east then south-east past Simsima, 6.5km ahead. 9.2km after Simsima is a roundabout (25°45'14.34"N 51°28'31.30"E) where they will continue straight ahead towards Al Khawr - a sculpture on the the roundabout looks like a huge, bright blue herring pointing at the sky. Hundreds of pylons carry power cables away over the desert and numerous gas drilling flares in the distance can be seen - the chimneys themselves are often obscured by haze, leaving the uncanny illusion of flames burning in the sky.

5.62km to the south-east, the race arrives at a roundabout on the far edge of an industrial development and turns south-west to enter the final section of the stage. Along this section we get our first look at the Persian Gulf - a brackish inwater forms a natural harbour where traditional dhows can be seen moored alongside  enormous private yachts. After 4km, the riders arrive at the Al Khawr Corniche finish line, 97km from the start. The vast majority of Al Khawr's 31,500 residents are members of the Al Mohanadi, a Bedouin tribe consisting of seven families that continues to rule the city as it has done for long before Qatari independence in 1971. Local income comes mainly from the fishing industry, though the oil, gas and service sectors also employ many people; and the city is famous for its vast number of beautiful mosques, some very ancient and some built within the last few years.

Stage 1 altimetry (click for enlargement)
Stage 2
Stage 2 (click for enlargement)
(image credit: ©
Stage 2 visits the beautiful and largely unpopulated north of Qatar, a land characterised by wide expanses of desert broken up by rocks and occasional small communities. Riders may be assisted by strong tailwinds for the first part of the stage, whereas strong crosswinds could cause problems during the latter half once the route turns north. We'll also see the nearest this race comes to a mountain during this stage - the parcours climbs 25m from 8m to 33m in the first 18km, but as the remainder of the route is fairly flat total elevation gain is approximately the same as Stage 1.

The stage sets out from Al Zubara Fort, which looks medieval but was in fact constructed in 1938 on the foundations of an earlier fort. It remained in military use until the 1980s, also serving as a coastguard station, before being restored as a museum - visitors are asked to make a donation on entry. 2km to the west is the ruined, deserted 18th Century city of Al Zubara - once Qatar's most important community and a centre of the pearl fishing industry. Qatari ownership of this region was disputed by Bahrain for many years following Independence in 1971. Murair Fort, some 1.5km from the remains of the city, is of similar antiquity.

Al Zubara Fort
(image credit: Rafeek Qatar CC BY-SA 2.0)
Once the fort is left behind, the race sets out eastwards into the empty desert and passes by the little towns of Lisha and Musaykah after 5km - really just a few small buildings scattered around irrigated fields - then continues for 20km to the first intermediate sprint (25°51'16.05"N 51°15'27.73"E), just north of Al Ghuwayriyah and 23.5km from the start. Just north of the road a short way after the sprint ends is a modern farm with the peculiar-looking circular fields that are the most efficient for mechanised irrigation.

34.5km from the start, the riders arrive at the North Road and turn left before arriving after 5km at Madinat al Ka'ban, a rather unlovely little town in the middle of nowhere. To the south-east is - of all things - an ostrich farm, though at 3km from the road those of us fortunate enough to be able to get footage of the race won't be able to see anything. The road is arrow-straight for the next 17.6km with little to see other than the desert and an occasional small farm. This section is far enough inland to escape the worst of the crosswinds blowing in off the Persian Gulf, but with little between the road and the coast winds may still be an issue. February is Qatar's rainiest month (receiving an average of 17.8mm) but, with an average temperature of 23C, it may still be hot ; especially in direct sunlight - and there's absolutely no shade at all along this route.

After 56.5km from the start of the race, the North Road begins to curve gradually to the west, then the riders come to the entry point of the final circuit (26° 2'41.27"N 51°19'52.34"E) near Athba. The circuit is 56.5km in length, accounting for half the entire length of the stage, and riders will cross the finish line once before the race ends. Almost immediately after turning right to head towards Al Ghariyah, there is a ruined fort a short way from the road. Much of it has been all but reclaimed by the desert, but one restored tower is the highest point for many kilometres. The road runs straight for 2.84km, then bends gently to the west as it passes by the modern beach resort - the old town, which is a few kilometres north along a crumbling road that follows the coastline, is probably far more interesting than the resort.

Al Ruwais' three blue water-towers are a landmark
(image credit: ThorstenS CC BY-SA 3.0)
The road bends through 0.66km once the riders have passed by the turn for the resort, then enters a 10.5km section which, with the exception of two bends so gentle they're hardly noticeable, is perfectly straight. A bend takes the road north-west at a point where the second part of the circuit can just be seen 1km to the south; then the riders begin a 3.35km straight section to a left-hand bend and on towards Al Ruwais, one of the most important industrial sites in the Middle East. The residential area housing workers is a complete, self-contained community with shopping malls, schools, a hospital, mosques and everything else imaginable; yet it is so remote that inhabitants are unofficially known as Ruwaisians rather than Qataris. The port can be seen from the road - the traditional dhows look like paper boats as they bob next to enormous supertankers visiting the oil and gas refineries.

As the riders arrive at the residential area, they turn south-east back onto the North Road to complete the second half of the circuit and cross the finish line for the first time (26° 7'40.19"N 51°12'29.19"E). The second intermediate sprint begins here, the straight and slightly downhill road encouraging high speeds as riders compete for the points. They pass to the south of Madinat Al Shamal Park - a recreational area featuring a very rare sight in Qatar: tall, mature trees - then continue to the Ash Shamal Sports Centre where local teams are very likely to put on some sort of show as the race goes by. The following 13.4km are straight, traveling through the desert just south of the route already taken to Al Ruwais, and come to an end at the turning towards Al Ghariyah where the second circuit begins, following the same route back to the finish line.

Stage 2 altimetry (click for enlargement)
Stage 3
Stage 3 (click for enlargement)
(image credit: ©
The third and final stage begins and ends at the Katara Cultural Village, an urban area in the north of capital city Doha, and begins to climb immediately. Like the earlier stages, the highest points only reach around 30m (Qatar's highest point, Qurayn Abu al Bawl, is only 103m above sea level); though the undulating nature - with some steep ramps - of the landscape makes this the hilliest stage of the race with a total elevation gain of 257m. The majority of the second half of the stage, as it heads back towards Doha, is within a few kilometres of the coast and as such is subject to crosswinds and dust.

The riders set off along Street 850 (25°21'29.04"N 51°29'13.67"E) past the CNA-Q University campus, heading west to the North Road where they turn north-west and continue for 13.2km out of the city to Umm Salal Ali with its famous fort. The North Road is a modern motorway, offering little to see other than an occasional interesting building along either side - the Barzan Towers, 9km from the point where the race first joined the road, are the highlight; a pair of defensive buildings in the traditional local style and of unkown antiquity. A third tower can be seen a short way off, part of a 19th Century fortified house that once belonged to a Mohammed bin Jassim - the Emir of Qatar and Prince of Doha for one year until he abdicated in 1914 to allow his brother to rule.

Barzan Towers
(image credit: Jungle Boy unknown licence)
At Umm Salal Ali, the parcours turns right and then left a third of a kilometre later to join a much narrower road leading north into the desert. The first 3km of this section pass farms, then it's more desert to Umm Jurn some 5.5km ahead with only one or two irrigated areas to break up the monotonous arid landscape. As the riders pass the little town, they have completed 27km since the start of the stage and will begin the first intermediate sprint.

2.2km after Umm Jurn, the race arrives at a tunnel leading under a road they'll use on the way back (25°33'58.35"N 51°25'7.14"E), and then 9.6km later to the second intermediate sprint ending at Umm Suwayia Farm. The riders turn south-west here for a 6km section leading back to the North Road. There are large numbers of semi-wild camels in this area, which sometimes bring traffic to a halt as they wander into the road - not a hazard regularly encountered in European races.

(image credit: Amjra CC BY-SA 3.0)
The interchange at the North Road is a busy route for trucks heading east towards the major industrial city of Al Khawr, where Stage 1 ended, which means there is a likelihood of slippery patches caused by spilled diesel - a particular hazard if the roads are wet (February is Qatar's rainiest month). Having turned south, the riders follow the North Road for 6.3km until they arrive at the tunnel they passed under earlier. This time, after turning east, they travel over it and continue for 4.36km towards Sumaysimah; as they're heading towards the coat along this section there may be strong headwinds. They then turn south along a gently curving desert road that leads for 8.16km past the other side of Umm Jurn to the Lusail International Motor-Racing Circuit which motorbike racing fans will recognise as the location of the Qatari MotoGP. At this point, the stage is 72.5km from the start with exactly 20km still to go and, as the coast is just a few kilometres away to the east, powerful crosswinds are likely.

Once the circuit is left behind, the route continues for 11.6km through open desert and to the west of a concrete manufacturing facility - a site that even its own architect would be hard-pressed to call visually appealing - before arriving at the Doha Golf Club. Just north-east of the golf course lies the Lusail Project, where an enormous artificial lagoon shaped like a 1km wide comma is being constructed - this will become the centre of a new city, planned to provide homes for more than 250,000 people when complete - the stadium will host the 2022 Soccer World Cup. Among the many ambitious features of the project is "district cooling," whereby entire sections of the city are artificially cooled to prevent the need for domestic/industrial conditioning (details of exactly how this will be achieved are scarce; however, the city is designed to be as sustainable as possible - hopefully, the environmental costs of the cooling will not be too great).

The Pearl
(image credit: Dereckson CC BY 2.0)
There is a roundabout at either end of the golf club - at the second, the race turns east for 2.15km, the south over a bridge towards the island in the centre of the West Bay Lagoon. To the east of the road are the twin ZigZag Towers, which look exactly as would expected, and beyond them The Pearl-Qatar. This four million square metre island was the first part of Qatar where land could be bought and owned by foreigners and, when complete, will consist of thirteen islands in the shape of a string of pearls. The architecture and community is intended to combine the best of Arabic, Mediterranean and European; doing so with varying degrees of success. Overall, it works as well as can be expected, though the effect seems rather synthetic and lacking the chaotic, vigorous and human feel of a genuinely multicultural town where people from different backgrounds have lived together for many years. The finish line is approximately half a kilometre beyond the second bridge (25°21'44.12"N 51°31'17.50"E), 92.5km from the start of the stage.

Stage 3 altimetry (click for enlargement)
Starters (subject to change)

001 VAN DIJK Ellen
002 BECKER Charlotte
005 HOSKING Chloe
006 WORRACK Trixi

011 BRONZINI Giorgia
012 ANDRUK Alona
013 BATAGELJ Polona
015 DONATO Giulia

021 WILD Kirsten
022 BRAS Martine
024 SPOOR Winanda
026 VAN DER KAMP Laura

032 DE VOCHT Liesbeth
033 DÜSTER Sarah
034 KITCHEN Lauren
035 KNETEMANN Roxanne
036 TALEN Rebecca

041 CROWELL Jacquelyn
042 OLDS Shelley
043 RIVERA Coryn
044 RYAN Kendall
045 SCHNEIDER Samantha
046 WILES Tayler

053 BORCHI Alessandra
054 CECCHINI Elena
055 GUDERZO Tatiana

061 BUBNER Janine
063 KASPER Romy
064 POHL Stephanie
065 SANDIG Madeleine
066 SCHNITZMEIER Anna Bianca

071 ARNDT Judith
073 CROMWELL Tiffany
074 MACLEAN Jessie
075 RHODES Alexis
076 SPRATT Amanda

081 CANTELE Noemi
082 BARTELLONI Béatrice
083 CONFALONIERI Maria Giulia
084 PATUZZO Eleonora
085 SCANDOLARA Valentina
086 VANNUCCI Chiara

091 HENRION Ludivine
092 DUYCK Ann-Sophie
093 HANNES Kaat
095 TAYLOR Cherise
096 VAN LOOY Katrien

101 BIANNIC Aude
102 CORDON Audrey
103 JEULAND Nathalie
104 JEULAND Pascale
105 LESUEUR Melodie
106 VERHOEVEN Aurore

111 BERGSETH Johanne
116 WAERSTED Froydis

SKIL-1t4i (SKI) 
121 BRUINS Regina
122 KANIS Janneke
124 TROMP Esra
125 VAN RIJEN Linda
126 VISSER Adriana

131 CHEN Li
132 HUANG Dongyan
133 LIU Xin
134 LUO Xiaoling
135 YUAN Yunyun

141 BEYEN Ine
142 BRULEE Latoya
143 CROKET Gilke
144 POLSPOEL Maaike
146 VEKEMANS Aniska

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