Doha: Britain’s Mark Cavendish will be eyeing a possible second world road race title in Doha on Sunday but should face a stern challenge from reigning champion Peter Sagan.
For the first time since 2011 the World Championship course is best suited to sprinters, giving in-form Cavendish plenty to be excited about.
The 31-year-old Briton won that race in 2011 in Copenhagen when he was the height of his powers.
After seemingly being eclipsed by German Marcel Kittel as the world’s best sprinter since, Cavendish was back in form this season, winning four stages during July’s Tour de France before claiming Olympic silver on the track in Rio in August in the omnium.
He’s been ill since then but is coming showed in finishing sixth at Paris-Tours earlier this month that his speed is still there.
Qatar also holds good memories for Cavendish, who won the Tour of Qatar in February for the second time after also succeeding in 2013.
Sunday’s race could set up a fascinating encounter with one of the star’s of the year.
Peter Sagan won’t be giving up the rainbow jersey he won last year easily and has proved that even in flat sprints he can match the pure sprinters.
Last year he saw off the challenge of Australia’s Michael Matthews to win gold and he has continued his good form throughout 2016.
The Slovakian won the points classification at the Tour de France for the fifth consecutive year and won the European road race championships last month.
Other riders in contention include omnium gold medallist in Rio, Italy’s Elia Viviani and France’s fiery sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, a former winner of the French national road championships and known for his blistering finishes.
Compatriot Arnaud Demare could also be in with a shout of the title.
The Germans have plumped for Andre Greipel as their team leader but Kittel provides a formidable plan B, even if he’s been far from his 2013 and 2014 form this season.
Sunday’s event will be raced over a 257-km long course stretching from Doha’s Aspire Zone, a vast sporting complex in the west of Doha used in the past for training by international sporting sides such as Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and the Welsh rugby team.
The riders will then head north to the towns of Lusail and Al Khor before completing seven laps of the ‘Pearl Qatar’ where the race finishes.
Conditions are expected to be slightly cooler for Sunday’s race than in previous days with forecasters predicting temperatures of around 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit).