The Tour of Qatar is unique among stage races for its super, super flat terrain--and its complete lack of spectators (why the thing even exists is a mystery to me). It seems to be run entirely on super wide flat desert roads. Totally unremarkable...if it weren't for the crazy winds.
But because of the crazy winds the Tour of Qatar is a case study in echelon bike racing.
Because of the strong cross winds, apparently coming from the riders' left hand side above, you see the pack all strung out across the road, everyone trying to shield himself from the wind. So with a strong crosswind sitting directly behind someone isn't best, you want to be beside them a bit.
When the wind is coming directly from the front, or there is no wind, the pack can be strung out behind the lead rider(s) indefinitely.
But when battling a cross wind there's only so much real estate. Here you see those unlucky riders who weren't able to keep with the lead echelon. Once you're off, it's pretty stinking hard to get back on. Nearly impossible. (It's how I was dropped, twice, in my one go at collegiate nationals years ago.)
And so while it would seem from an elevation profile that the Tour of Qatar is a snoozer--only a sprinter's playground--the wind provides enough of an obstacle that the GC time gaps become fairly significant. Today, after five stages, Tom Boonen leads the GC by 31 seconds over Tyler Farrar. Sixth place is one minute back.
Don't miss the break.