Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish dips his toe in the water for what could be a tumultuous year when he makes his season’s debut for Team Columbia-Highroad in the six day Tour of Qatar which starts on Sunday.

The Tour will feature a number of sprint stages suited to Cavendish but is also notorious for its high winds which can cause chaos in the peloton which will include many riders embarking on their first competitive ride of the year.

“It’s been quite a while since I raced,” said Cavendish whose last race was last Sept at the Tour of Missouri where he won three stages.

“I’m in good shape, I’ve had a good winter and I’m feeling excited about the new season.

“On paper Qatar is favourable for the sprinters, but the roads are really exposed and you’ve got to watch out for crosswinds. Before you know it, the bunch can have split into 15 different groups.”

Cavendish is confident that he will be well protected in the build-ups to the sprints in Qatar.

“We’ve got some of our top time triallists coming out, guys who know how to keep up a high pace in the final kilometres of each stage, so we should be able to create a great ‘train’ for the sprint.”

Columbia-Highroad’s specific lead-out man for Cavendish in the Tour of Qatar will be New Zealand’s Greg Henderson. Henderson himself won two bunch sprint stages of Tour of Georgia for Columbia-Highroad last season.

“Our new signing Mark Renshaw will have that role [of lead-out man] sometimes in 2009 but Mark’s just come out of racing the Tour Down Under and we didn’t want him to take on Qatar as well before doing the Tour of California, which is one of our team’s biggest goals for 2009.”

Cavendish was the world’s most successful rider last year in terms of stage wins (17) and he also claimed the Madison title at the world championships along with Bradley Wiggins although the pair were unable to repeat that success at the Beijing Olympics.

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