Qatar, Road Race, 392km
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Broadcasts will take place daily at 11:30 (14:30 East Africa Time, GMT+3 hours). For more details, see Al Jazeera's listing by clicking here.
Hurrah for the end of January! There's still at least a month of winter to go for those of us in much of North America, Asia and Europe, but the good news is that after several months of hibernation (and cyclo cross, so it's not all bad) the road racing calendar is coming back to life and heading south to the warmer climes of the Middle East for the Ladies' Tour of Qatar, promising three days of top quality racing and more roadside history than you could shake a stick at.
Oh, and wind. Lots of wind - Qatar is almost entirely flat and, being surrounded on three sides by the Persian Gulf, the wind blows straight in off the sea and continues over the land unabated, whipping up the sand as it goes. Imagine someone set fire to a huge pile of sandpaper and you had to ride through it - that's what the Tour of Qatar is like. It is not a race that eases the riders gently back into racing mode, as they found out just kilometres from the start of Stage 1 last year when they changing direction and a helpful tailwind that had seen them set off at high speed turned into a searing blast that fried them in their own sweat for the rest of the parcours. 2009/2010 overall winner Kirsten Wild, riding for the Dutch national team rather than her usual AA Drink-Leontien.nl (this year, she's riding for Argos-Shimano), won that day and became the first to wear the golden jersey after a group of eleven riders (whittled down to seven by the time they reached the final sprint to the line) broke away; later she would win Stage 3 in similar circumstances. However, finishing 2'20" behind Specialized-Lululemon's Trixi Worrack on Stage 2 meant Wild was never again in contention for a third General Classification victory - GreenEDGE leader Judith Arndt (now retired) was with Worrack at the Stage 2 finish and took the same time, thus gaining a 2" lead in the GC, and from that point onwards the battle was between those two teams. When Arndt managed to stay with Wild (and several others) for fourth place in a bunch sprint to finish Stage 3, her overall advantage increased to 6" and she had the race in the bag. A lot of racing had been packed into three days and Arndt was probably glad it was all over, as were the several riders who uploaded photographs showing what human legs look like after they've been sandblasted for 307km.
One excellent piece of news is that, in these times when women's races are feeling the economic pinch and having to make cuts (or, in all too many cases, disappearing altogether), Qatar has actually grown - this year, there will be four stages rather than three as in previous years. Once again, the parcours concentrates on the north of the country.
This year, Qatar also offers us our first chance to see the all-new Wiggle Honda/DTPC Honda team in stage racing action. Owned and managed by women's cycling legend and Commonwealth gold medal winner Rochelle Gilmore, the British-based team is partly financed by Bradley Wiggins' Wiggo Foundation and boasts the sort of line-up that even well-established teams dream about: in addition to Gilmore, the squad is home to Laura Trott, Jo Rowsell, Dani King, Amy Roberts, Elinor Barker, twice World Champion Giorgia Bronzini (an ace sprinter and very much worth watching if she rides this race), Lauren Kitchen, Beatrice Bartellon, Emily Collins, Ana-Bianca Schnitzmeier and Mayuko Hagiwara- a talent pool that looks likely to do for British women's cycling what Sky has done for the men. They'll be wanting to make their mark; expect them to do precisely that.
Gold - overall race leader (General Classification)
Silver - points leader
White - leading young rider
Chloe Hosking gets things under way with a superb victory in the desert
Having set off from the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha (25°17'43.64"N 51°32'21.11") - among the most iconic modern buildings in a city full of iconic modern buildings and home to a world famous collection covering almost one and a half thousand years of artistic endeavour - Stage 1 headed south past the airport out of the city for 11.5km to Al Wakra, then south-west for a further 14km before making a pass of the finish line at Mesaieed (Umm Sa'id) after 33km. Riders faced a strong headwind on this section, perhaps a contributing factor in the crash involving Charlotte Becker (Argos-Shimano), Anna-Bianca Schnitzmeier (Wiggle-Honda) and Jo Kiesanowksi (Tibco) at 14km; fortunately, none of the three suffered injury and were all back onboard within seconds.
The first pass of the finish line at 35.5km marked the beginning of the first sprint and 2009/2010 victor Kirsten Wilde took the top points closely followed by Rochelle Gilmore (Wiggle-Honda) and Marta Tagliaferro (Mcipollini-Giordana). Next, the riders turned north-west and headed out into the desert, heading across open country - a change of direction that turned the headwind into a tailwind with speeds increasing dramatically. Several teams took advantage of this, putting fast riders with useful domestiques out at the front; this rapidly led to the peloton breaking up into four groups with a lead group of fifty out in front. 29.5km later they arrived at Al Wukair for the second sprint, with Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS), Chloe Hosking (Hitec-UCK) and Tiffany Cromwell (Orica) first, second and third this time around.
Some 10km further on, now back at Al Wakra, the race followed the earlier route back toward the finish line - which brought an unwelcome return of the headwind, effectively finishing off any chance those riders who had failed to secure a place in the lead group had of winning the stage. Much of this final section was straight, culminating with a 1.8km along a wide road to the line, which always promised a high-speed bunch sprint. The leaders had an advantage of 2'30" going into the final 10km thanks largely to Trixi Worrack of Specialized-Lululemon taking control and driving it along at a high rate of knots. A little later, Gracie Elvin (Orica) launched an attack; a move that, had nobody have gone after her, might potentially have been a winning move. It was not to be, however - Lisa Brennauer (Specialized-Lululemon), Liebet de Vocht (Rabo-Liv-Giant) and, most crucially, Chloe Hosking (Hitec-UCK) went after her. Valentina Scandolara (Mcipollini-Giordana) broke away from the chase group for an impressive attempt at joining the leaders but, when nobody was willing to work with her, she faced the wind alone and was eventually reabsorbed by the second group.
Stage 1 Top Ten
1 Chloe HOSKING HPU 2h23'51"
2 Gracie ELVIN GEW ST
3 Lisa BRENNAUER SLU ST
4 Liesbet DE VOCHT RBW ST
5 Marta TAGLIAFERRO MCG +10"
6 Kirsten WILD SKI +10"
7 Simona FRAPPORTI BPK +10"
8 Shelley OLDS TIB +10"
9 Emma JOHANSSON GEW +10"
10 Eleonora VAN DIJK SLU +10"
(Full result here)
Chloe Hosking is on Twitter - follow her here.
Chloe's team manager Karl Lima is also on Twitter and provides live updates from the races his team enter.
Hey, who needs a team? Kirsten Wild overpowers with old-fashioned superior strength
Don't like cycling in strong wind? Then you'd probably best not book any cycle tours of Qatar - Stage 2 was a carbon copy of 2012's Stage 1, right down to a powerful headwind that strained the leg muscles throughout much of the parcours. Setting off from Ash Shahaniyah camel racing track (25°24'22.20"N 51°12'37.42"E) some 34km north-west of capital city Doha (25°24'20.66"N 51°12'39.51"E), the riders headed south-east for 2.87km on a flat road before arriving at a junction where they turned north into the desert and the wind, passing a zoo and game reserve at Lekhraib after 4km. Xiu-Jie Jiang (Chongming-Giant) and Audrey Cordon (France) got tactics off to a fine start with an attack at 8km but, both of them too far behind Chloe Hosking yesterday, the peloton showed little concern and only Malgorzata Jasinska (Mcipollini-Giordana) responded, waiting for the gap to half a minute before she successfully bridged. This initial section rises no more than a few metres but is very exposed, possibly once again leading to a hard time for the riders if it's windy.
Continuing north, the race reached a junction and turned 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) marking the stage's first intermediate sprint, where Jiang took the top points with Jasinska and Cordon second and third. This led to a situation - with the gap now at a massive nine minutes, Jiang's bonus three seconds made her virtual race leader; Orica-AIS got on the case with every member of the team driving the pace ever higher to ensure the peloton made up time. Five of them - Tiffany Cromwell, Gracie Elvin, Amanda Spratt, Loes Gunnewijk and Emma Johansson - were joined by Chloe Hosking (Hitec-UCK), Lululemon riders Trixi Worrack and Ellen van Dijk and Kirsten Wild of Argos-Shimano to form a nine-rider break that took advantage of a change in direction, got away and reduced the gap to a more manageable three minutes - however, they couldn't catch the leaders in time to prevent them passing through the second intermediate sprint in the same order as earlier.
Then, 63km in, the three were caught; having worked so hard for so long in the wind, Jiang and Cordon could stay at the front no longer and dropped away, drifting back to the peloton. Now ten riders vied with one another, aware that - as tends to the way in this race - the stage was going to come down to a sprint finish. The peloton tried catch up so that the teams could decide who'd be in pole position, but Orica kept pushing hard and, at 10km to go, the gap had actually increased slightly - testament to Orica's tactical skills.
At Simsima, the riders continued straight ahead towards Al Khawr, the leaders attacking and counter-attacking one another all the way as they passed under the hundreds of pylons carry power cables away over the desert but, knowing now that the peloton was too far behind, they allowed their speed to fall off a little so as to save energy for the last dash to the line. Cromwell tried to take advantage, attacking with 5km to go, but was immediately caught by Wild; it was Wild who brought in Spratt when she tried her own attack a short while later. Interesting - Wild, with no team mates to support her and surrounded by a gang of strong Orica riders, was doing nothing less than taking control, bossing the race. She's enjoyed enormous success in this race with two General Classification victories to her name; was she going to go for an heroic stage win today?
|Trixi Worrack made a splendid attempt at wresting victory
from an unstoppable Kirsten Wild
Stage 2 Top Ten
1 Kirsten WILD SKI 2h38'54"
2 Trixi WORRACK SLU ST
3 Ellen VAN DIJK SLU ST
4 Chloe HOSKING HPU ST
5 Emma JOHANSSON GEW ST
6 Gracie ELVIN GEW ST
7 Malgorzta JASINSKA MCG ST
8 Tiffany CROMWELL GEW ST
9 Loes GUNNEWIJK GEW +06"
10 Amanda SPRATT GEW +14"
(Full stage result)
General Classification after Stage 2
1 Chloe HOSKING HPU 5h02'33"
2 Gracie ELVIN GEW +06"
3 Kirsten WILD SKI +09"
4 Trixi WORRACK SLU +16"
5 Eleonora VAN DIJK SLU +18"
6 Emma JOHANSSON GEW +19"
7 Tiffany CROMWELL GEW +21"
8 Lisa BRENNAUER SLU +1'38"
9 Rochelle GILMORE WHT +1'50"
10 Marta TAGLIAFERRO MCG +1'51"
(Full General Classification)
Stage winner Kirsten Wild is on Twitter, send her your congratulations and follow her by clicking here.
Race leader Chloe Hosking is also on Twitter, she can be found here.
Wild does it again!
After setting off from Al Thakhira (Al Dhakira on some maps; 25°44'9.50"N 51°32'6.92"E) on the eastern coast, the riders faced 60km of desert road crossing the entire country to the western coast at Al Zubara - this first section also formed the first section of Stage 2 in 2012, but this year is being raced in the opposite direction. Al Zubara is home to a famous 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. It also marks the beginning of the first sprint (25°58'31.90"N 51° 2'42.01"E).
As predicted, speeds were high with a tailwind blowing the peloton across the country from the south-east, driving the average speed during the first hour to a blistering 48kph and encouraging numerous riders to attempt to take advantage with attacks - however, with the peloton reaching top speeds of more than 60kph in places, nobody could get away. Several riders had punctures in the first stretch, including Kim de Baat (Netherlands) at 42km, Rochelle Gilmore at 40km and British rider Katie Colclough (Specialized-Lululemon) 5km before the first intermediate sprint, closely followed by riders from Be Pink and Chongming-Giant.
Argos-Shimano worked together to get their riders into an ideal position to grab points at the sprint and their efforts paid off: Stage 2 winner Kirsten Wild was the first one through, Charlotte Becker was third while Hitec-UCK's Chloe Hosking took second. Then, just as the race turned north a few kilometres up the road, a crash - a big one, splitting the peloton into pieces and allowing a group of 42 riders to get away on the 23.5km stretch to Abu Al Duloof. With this group counting numerous big-hitting favourites among its number, the pace stayed high and it wasn't long before some members found the going too tough and dropped away, reducing it down to 18 at the 75km point.
|Wiggle-Honda rider/manager/owner Rochelle
Gilmore crashed hard and was disqualified
At Madinat Al Shamal the riders entered a circuit and, 13km later, crossed the finish line for the first time, also beginning the second intermediate sprint - Lisa Brennauer (Specialized-Lululemon) took the top points at the second intermediate sprint with Chantal Blaak (Tibco) and Kirsten Wild right behind her for second and third. Several riders went down in another crash as they went through; Gilmore hit the road hard and reported after the race that she may have broken a collarbone. To add to her woe the judges, having apparently decided that she and Xiu-Jie Jiang's riding was to blame for the crash, disqualified both of them.
The chasers turned up the pressure and most of the lead group were caught, though eight riders remained out in front - a dangerous situation for the rest because, if that group could get into the final part of the race with a decent advantage, they'd almost certainly be able to choose from among themselves who would win. Because of that, the pressure was turned up even higher; the last of the lead group were caught with 4km to go and the riders approached the finish together.
Poor Chloe Hosking had awful luck with a front wheel puncture 500m from the finish - fortunately, since she was within the final 3km, she was awarded the same time as the lead group, mitigating the damage; unfortunately, due to time bonuses, she loses her General Classification lead and is now trailing by 3". Meanwhile, out at the front of the race Kirsten Wild, who set a new record for Tour of Qatar stage victories with a fourth yesterday (and also holds the record for most General Classification victories in this race), covered every attack and beat it with a fifth today - another superb effort by a rider who combines intelligence and strength and is one of the finest sprinters in the world today. Ellen van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon), who had led until the Dutch superhero powered past her, was right behind her for second; Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) followed for third.
Stage 3 Top Ten
1 Kirsten Wild (Argos-Shimano) 2h28'15"
2 Ellan van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
3 Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) +02"
4 Marta Tagliaferro (Mcipollini-Giordana) ST
5 Shelley Olds (Tibco-To The Top) +04"
6 Simona Frapporti (Be Pink) +05"
7 Trixi Worrack (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
8 Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) ST
9 Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) ST
10 Tiffany Cromwell (Orica-AIS) ST
(Full stage result when available)
General Classification after Stage 3
1 Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) 7h30'43"
2 Chloe HOSKING (Hitec-UCK) +03"
3 Gracie ELVIN (Orica-AIS) +16"
4 Ellen van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon) +17"
5 Trixi WORRACK (Specialized-Lululemon) +26"
6 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) +29"
7 Tiffany CROMWELL (Orica-AIS) +31"
8 Lisa BRENNAUER (Specialized-Lululemon) +1'52"
9 Marta TAGLIAFERRO (Mcipollini-Giordana) +1'58"
10 Lauren KITCHEN (Wiggle-Honda) +2'02"
(Full GC when available)
Kelly Druyts (TopSport-Vlaanderen) did not start; Xiu-Jie Jiang, Lina Shi (both Chongming-Giant), Rochelle Gilmore (Wiggle-Honda) and Liesbet de Vocht (Rabo-Liv-Giant) did not finish. Liesbet de Vocht's crash - image.
And the race goes Wild!
Stage 4 begans at the Sealine Beach Resort (24°51'37.76"N 51°30'53.00"E), a modern tourist site a few kilometres south-west of Mesaieed, then reversed the first section of Stage 1 to head through Al Wakra, location of the first sprint (25°10'43.96"N 51°36'12.82"E) and back into Doha for the grand finish at Doha Corniche. When the riders arrived at the Museum of Islamic Art roundabout, they continued straight ahead rather than turning right to return to the museum and crossed the finish line for the first time after 1km; this also marked the entry into a 6km circuit about which riders completed five laps. The second sprint began on the second passing of the finish line.
Unusually for Qatar at this time of year, the wind dropped considerably today, making the stage a different sort of race to the previous three - in an attempt to make the most of it, several riders and groups began their attacks within the first kilometres. Hitec-UCK put an enormous amount of effort into their attempt, hoping no doubt to help Chloe Hosking win back the three seconds she needed to retake the General Classification lead, but as the race left Mesiaeed behind and struck out across the desert for the coast the peloton was simply too fast and the riders remained together.
Kirsten Wild (Argos-Shimano) began the day with a 3" advantage over Hosking, but being a rider as wise as she is strong she knew that she should take any opportunity that came her way to win more time - and so a battle began on the way to the first sprint, with Hosking ducking into the Dutch rider's slipstream in the hope of slingshotting past for the points. Hosking has, on countless occasions, shown herself to be a remarkable sprinter; however, at 22 years of age, she doesn't yet have the experience or physical power of 30-year-old Wild and found herself simply unable to get past. Ellen van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon) was on their tail and took third. With victory now looking more certain, Wild's Argos-Shimano team concentrated on providing protection rather than keeping breaks in check, showing no concern at all when a group of nine split off and headed away up the road - with best-placed rider Carmen Small (Specialized-Lululemon) setting off this morning with a disadvantage of almost four minutes to Wild, there was really no need to expend energy pulling them back at this point. Other teams followed suit; it was only when the gap reached 1'25" that Wiggle-Honda (presumably seeking to mitigate damages following the loss of team owner and leader Rochelle Gilmore yesterday) and the Italian national squad (presumably happy to grant a request for help from Wiggle's Italian superstar Giorgia Bronzini) combined forces and chased them down, chopping almost half a minute off the gap by the time the race entered the first of the five circuits.
By the beginning of the second lap, the gap was down to 45" and rapidly diminishing - though it still left Jasmin Glaesser (Tibco), Audrey Cordon (France) and Shelley Olds (Tibco), as the fastest in the break, to take the points on offer at the second intermediate sprint. The break's time out in front was almost over by the start of lap three with their advantage slashed to only 20"; when it fell to 15" Cordon launched a fine and picturesque solo attack, but was quickly caught by the super-fast Small. Jessie MacLean bridged and looked capable of overtaking, but as her Orica-AIS team mates were driving the peloton after Small and Cordon she then declined to go in case they went with her - probably a wise move, because Cordon had the strength to mount another attack towards the end of the third lap, though she couldn't fend off a counter attack by Lucinda Brand (Rabo-Liv-Giant).
As the penultimate lap loomed, Argos-Shimano decided the time was right to seize full control of the race - but Orica-AIS weren't about to let them have it all their own way and revealed themselves to have plans of domination too, as was seen when British rider Katie Colclough (Specialized-Lululemon) to have a go at a solo break of her own and found she had both Orica's Emma Johansson and Argos in its entirety on her back. Needless to say, she didn't get far. Lululemon now resorted to trickery, sending Small on another attack which then turned out to be a smokescreen intended to divert attention from an attack by her team mate Lauren Rowney over on the other side of the road. It didn't work: Argos and Orica were on Small the moment she made her move but were sufficiently alert to spot what was going on and stopped Rowney in her tracks too.
|Kirsten Wild wins for a record third time
When the race entered the final 500m, the front of the peloton turned orange as riders from the Netherlands national team swarmed up, apparently wanting to assist Wild. This almost proved her undoing for, realising that the sudden increase in numbers would make it harder for any rider to get through, Hosking decided the time was right to begin what she hoped would be her winning move. Once again, however, Wild's greater experience and strength gave her the upper hand - while Hosking had needed to move to the other side of the road to select a clear path for her final sprint, Wild was able to muscle her way through along the centre of the road before fending off Brand and Marta Tagliaferro (Mcipollini-Giordana) as she sprinted away to a record third General Classification victory. Hosking took the same time in eighth place, but is second overall at +14".
Stage 4 Top Ten
1 Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) 2h09'38"
2 Lucinda BRAND (Rabo-Liv-Giant) ST
3 Marta TAGLIAFERRO (Mcipollini-Giordana) ST
4 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) ST
5 Simona FRAPPORTI (Be Pink) ST
6 Maria Giulia CONFALONIERI (Italy) ST
7 Trixi WORRACK (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
8 Chloe HOSKING (Hitec-UCK) ST
9 Barbara GUARISCHI (Italy) ST
10 Pascale JEULAND (France) ST
(Full stage result)
Final General Classification
1 Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) 9h40'08"
2 Chloe HOSKING (Hitec-UCK) +14"
3 Ellen VAN DIJK (Specialized-Lululemon) +29"
4 Gracie ELVIN (Orica-AIS) +29"
5 Trixi WORRACK (Specialized-Lululemon) +39"
6 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) +42"
7 Tiffany CROMWELL (Orica-AIS) +44"
8 Lisa BRENNAUER GER (Specialized-Lululemon) +2'05"
9 Marta TAGLIAFERRO (Mcipollini-Giordana) +2'07"
10 Lauren KITCHEN (Wiggle-Honda) +2'15"
(Full General Classification)