The men's 12th edition of the Tour of Qatar started in style with an eventful first stage. Under the influence of the wind, a fantastic battle took place between the strong men of the pack. After taking off in the final kilometres of the race with two other escapees, Brent Bookwalter went on to capture his very first pro win just by the Dukhan Beach. The American takes command of the general classification and the Golden Jersey going with it.
Stage 1: Katara Cultural Village – Dukhan Beach, 145 km
143 riders at the start. Sunny and windy
Two days after the ladies event, it was the men's turn to take on the Tour of Qatar. 143 riders took of from the Katara Cultural Village in very windy conditions for a 146kms stage all the way to the east coast and Dukhan Beach. Despite quite a few attempts the pack remained bunched as it exited Doha. At km 14, under the influence of the side wind, the pack broke up into several groups with 14 men powering away, including the likes of Cavendish (OPQ), Boasson Hagen (SKY) and Phinney (BMC). But the pack bunched up together again at km 35.
The first intermediate sprint (km 40.5) was claimed by Phinney ahead of Kristoff (KAT) and Eisel (SKY). Shortly after, three riders managed to take off: Velits (OPQ), Hayman (SKY) and Dempster (TNE). Their advantage went from 2'40 at km 50 to a maximum 5.10 at km 62. Again the pack broke up into several bunches after heading south-east. While Cancellara (RLT), EIsel (SKY), Phinney (BMC), Flecha (VCD) and Bennati (TST) found themselves in a front group, Boasson Hagen was trapped in a second group and Cavendish in a third. At km 79.5, the leading three were eventually caught by the first part of the pack where Cancellara could no longer be seen after only just avoiding a fall.
With 25kms to go, the 24 leaders could enjoy a 34” advantage over the Boasson Hagen-Cancellara group and 1'22 over the Cavendish group. Eventually, just under 50 riders gathered together at the front. At km 124.5, four men powered away: Eisel, Schar (BMC), Rollin (FDJ) and Curvers (ARG). As the Cavendish group closed in on the main bunch, the leaders could enjoy a slim 15” advantage with 15 kilometres to go. The four escapees were finally caught at km 130.
The final decisive move occurred a kilometre and a half later when Rast (RLT), Bookwalter (BMC) and Elmiger (IAM) broke away. With only 5 kilometres to go, the front three had a 34'' lead, and remained under the increasing pressure of the chasing pack. A fantastic battle would then take place all the way to the finish line by the sea.
In the final straight, Brent Bookwalter managed to outsprint his breakaway companions and only just stay clear of the hungry pack. The American captured his first professional win, beating Elmiger and Rast to the line while EIsel won the bunched sprint, just behind.
Bookwalter takes command of the overall standings and will therefore be wearing the Golden Jersey on tomorrow's team time-trial. The BMC rider also leads the points' standings and captures the very first Qatar Airways Excellency jersey. His team mate Taylor Phinney will be wearing the White Pearl jersey for the best young rider.