By: AFP WRITERS
In the Gulf state that will welcome the football World Cup in 2022, the man to beat will likely be Boonen.
The three-time winner has 17 stage victories in the race under his belt but arrives in Qatar on the back of a 2010 season hindered by a knee operation in the summer that required a long spell of rehabilitation.
"I feel ready," said the Quick Step rider and 2005 world champion this week.
"I'm as hungry as a wolf."
Boonen will face stiff competition from Cavendish, who is also seeking a return to form but who can call upon a strong HTC-Highroad team and the support of Austria's Bernhard Eisel in the sprints.
Among the other sprinters hoping to make a mark on the race's flat, windy stages are Italy's Francesco Chicchi, Dutch pair Theo Bos and Kenny van Hummel and Australian Graeme Brown.
If the wind picks up, as it often does in Qatar, the peloton's powerhouses could have a say in the final shake-up.
Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek), the favourite for Sunday's 2.5km prologue, leads a pack of dangerous all-rounders including Italy's Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Spain's Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky), the Norwegian Edval Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) and Germany's Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo).
Sunday's prologue will be followed by five stages involving riders from 16 teams.