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Preview: Classics masters set to build foundation in Qatari wind

The favorites

Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) ★★★★ Cavendish will carry the burden of Omega Pharma’s leadership with Boonen out. It should be no problem, as he has won four stages and placed sixth and ninth overall in the past.

To win the overall this year, he needs to do well in the team time trial and win as many stages as possible for the bonus seconds. If he is able to win three of the six stages, he will collect enough seconds to jump up in the overall, perhaps landing himself on the top step.

Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) ★★★ The Swiss is on track towards the classics, which underlines his name for the Tour of Qatar. The best he has accomplished so far is a stage win and seventh overall last year.

His ability to stick with the lead group when the gulf winds howl will work in his favor. To win the overall, he simply needs to give the slip to the sprinters. The winds will go a long way to determining how and if that happens.

Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) ★★ Taylor can work his Phinney magic to win the overall classification by sticking with Cancellara and teammate Greg Van Avermaet. The effort will ensure he is ‘up there’ every day, but one of those days he will need to launch from a select group to get the winning advantage to seal the deal. It is a long shot, but Phinney in his short two years as a pro has shown capable and he is coming off of his first incident-free offseason.

Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) ★★ Norway’s “Eddy BoHagen” will form part of Sky’s classics team next month and will be nearing top form in Qatar. He showed well in the Santos Tour Down Under, working hard for teammate and overall leader Geraint Thomas, and already has four stage race titles under his belt.

In 2010, he debuted for Sky with a win in Qatar. He helped the British boys win the team time trial and wore the leader’s golden jersey for one day. It may be a sign of things to come when he returns for his second participation.

Elia Viviani (Cannondale) ★★ The Italian fast-man is beginning a new chapter after devoting much of last season to the track omnium at the Olympic Games. He debuts in Qatar, but will catch on quickly and give Cavendish some competition. A stage win or two will allow him to move up in the overall, but he will need to follow Cancellara or another attack one day to gain enough to win the overall.

Others to watch

Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) ★
Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) ★
John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) ★
Adam Blythe (BMC Racing) ★
Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard) ★
Bernhard Eisel (Sky) ★
Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) ★★
Daniele Bennati (Saxo-Tinkoff) ★