After one of the most exciting stages in the history of the Tour of Qatar, Tom Boonen captured his 20th success in impressive fashion. The Belgian, well helped by his Omega Pharma Quickstep team, comforted his overall leader’s Golden Jersey, after managing to close in on a Cancellara attempt in the final moments and outsprinting his main rivals. The 31-year-old now has a 31" lead overall. Looking good for a fourth Qatar crown!
The wind coming from the south-east, the day would be fast and furious for the 124 riders of the Tour of Qatar. A favourable wind all along the first 80 kilometres was on the menu of the 147.5km stage before a final circuit north of Qatar. And that probably explained why the riders were eager to be at the front of the pack, just in case.
Indeed, as soon as the first kilometres, the strong teams set a fast pace and several riders were rapidly dropped on a side-wind portion. The pack gathered together again after 30 kilometres. Eventually, two men managed to break away at km 33: Bak (LTB) and Shimizu (BGT). Their lead grew from 20" at km 27 to 4’40 at km 50.
After having covered 52.1kms during the first hour of racing, the gap reached a maximum 7’ at km 57. Time had come for team Garmin to take command of the chase and the pack moved closer to the escapees.
At the first intermediate sprint (km 81.5) claimed by Bak ahead of Shimizu, the pack led by Kruopis (GEC), third to the line, remained 5’20 adrift. At km 104, Shimizu was the first to be caught by the peloton while Bak insisted. The Dane was eventually caught by four counter-attacking men, before the pack bunched up together at km 112.
Just before the first passage on the line of the Madinat Al Shamal circuit, 26 strong men powered away including Golden jersey Boonen (OPQ), Farrar (GRM) and Cancellara. They reached the second bonus sprint (km 121), won by Boonen ahead of Farrar and Hunter with a 20" lead over a chasing group including Cavendish (SKY). At the second passage on the line and with one lap to go, the front group could enjoy a 38" advantage. The gap grew to 1’15 with 10kms to go.
Riders such as Farrar and Cooke were then to suffer punctures while Cancellara attacked at the front. Six men eventually moved away for the final sprint to victory. Boonen, in impressive fashion captured his 20th stage success in Qatar, beating Veelers (PRO) and Cancellara to the line. The Belgian naturally keeps his Golden Jersey and increases his overall lead to 31" over Farrar and 34" over Flecha. Boonen keeps the points’ classification lead, while Navardauskas recovers the best young rider’s White jersey.