The first stage of the menâ€™s Tour of Qatar proved to be exciting straight from the start when a group of favourites made the best of the strong wind blowing over the country. After a very difficult season plagued by falls and injuries, Tom Boonen flew to an impressive 18th stage success and captured the Golden jersey.
A strong wind welcomed the 125 riders at Dukhan for the start of stage one of the Tour of Qatar. Immediately from kilometre zero, the pace was wild and the pack broke up into several groups. Up front was a bunch of twenty riders including all the race favourites. After enjoying a 10â€ť lead, the front group was caught by a first chasing pack and 50 riders gathered together.
Again, after 30 kilometres, a group of 19 men powered away, including Golden jersey Lars Boom (RAB), Silver jersey Fabian Cancellara (LEO), as well as the likes of Boonen and Steegmans (QST), Renshaw (THR), Bennati and Oâ€™Grady (LEO), Flecha (SKY), Haussler (GRM) and Burghardt (BMC). The gap grew to 1â€™ on the chasing back including Mark Cavendish (THR) and White jersey, Dowsett (SKY), as the front group reached the first bonus sprint (at km 56), won by Renshaw (THR) ahead of Boom and Bennati.
Despite moving closer to the leaders (40â€ť at km 73), the chasing bunch stopped its effort and the gap grew to 2â€™20 at kilometre 79. Shortly later, at the entry of the feeding zone, overall leader Boom was forced to stop due to severe stomach pains. He eventually hopped back on his bike and was to be caught by the second pack, leaving 18 men to battle it out in the lead.
The second intermediate sprint (at km 96.5) was claimed by Steegmans ahead of Renshaw and Haussler, while the golden jersey group remained 2â€™45 adrift. With 25kms to go, the gap had reached 3â€™ and the front men could start considering stage victory.
Despite a breakaway attempt from Klier (GRM) with 2 kilometres to go, the group made it bunched for decision time. Taking off with 250m to go, Tom Boonen kept command of the sprint and victoriously crossed the finish line ahead of Haussler and Renshaw. He claims his 18th success in Qatar.
The Belgian, three-time winner of the event, takes control of the overall classification with a 4â€ť lead over Renshaw and 8â€ť over Cancellara. Boonen also leads the pointsâ€™ standings while his Quick Step team mate Nikolas Maes is the best young rider of the race so far.