So the last few days in Qatar went pretty well. Stage Two wasn’t such a perfect day as we had wished. The wind wasn’t that strong and the bunch didn’t split at all, so we headed into Doha all together for what was to be a crazy bunch sprint.
Our leadout didn’t go quite as planned as we hit the front a little too early. This meant Cav and Mark Renshaw were left to fend for themselves in the last couple of k’s and I didn’t manage to get up there. Heinrich Haussler unleashed an awesome sprint to take the stage and come within one second of Tom Boonen’s overall lead.
The next day we were again treated to some typical Qatari wind. In the first 2km the peloton was split into five groups and the fun was well under way! I managed to fight my way into the second group from the start but it was to no avail when we turned into a headwind and things came back together.
So picture the scene: we’re riding down a flat, barren road through the desert, sand whipping in our faces, the speedo clocking a crazy 12kph at 280w and a right turn coming up in 10kms time! Carnage was inevitable! So with the right turn upon us, 20 guys made the first echelon. The rest of us tried in vain to stay in contention but in the end sat up and rode to the finish together at a rather casual pace (35 minutes behind, to be precise)
Unfortunately I was one of the unlucky/lucky (whatever way you see it) ones in the “grupetto” and had a rather boring ride to the finish. Unluckily for Boonen he had a flat and lost the jersey while Haussler won again and took the lead. Renshaw did a great ride, finishing 2nd and moved into 2nd overall. We had two riders in the front that day, not really enough for a Protour team. We were suitably told off and given a bit of a kick up the arse before the next day’s stage.
The next day came, the tops of the trees were once again touching the floor and the chaos in the bunch was once again the same. The kick up the arse the previous night must have worked, since I managed to make the front group going into the finish, along with the ever present Bernie Eisel and Renshaw. The boys did good, managing to win the stage with Renshaw and take the overall lead from Haussler with just 1 stage to go!
We had four seconds over 2nd place and, with a maximum of 16 seconds bonus up for grabs and enough wind to worry us, the last day was going to be a nervous one for us at HTC!! So as always the start was again like a cyclo-cross race: full gas sprint, a few crashes, a few echelons, breakaways came and went, and the wind blew but we did good and managed to control the race to our liking and let a couple of guys go up the road and mop up some of the time bonuses that we needed to prevent the in-form Haussler taking from us.
We hit the finish circuit and all was together for what would be again a vicious bunch sprint, with lots of fresh legs after just a 120km last leg of the tour. So we workers did our work and the race entered its final kilometres. I did my last pull to the front with 3kms to go and my job was done. All I could do now was keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.
The only way we could lose was if Haussler won and Renshaw didn’t feature in the top three, so it was up to Mark to stay glued to Haussler’s wheel and make sure this didn’t happen. Lucky for us Haussler had a bad day and didn’t get to the front so the win was ours! So my first race went pretty well, a top 10 and a win for the team. I was pretty happy!
Anybody who thinks Renshaw is just a leadout man can think again, that race was hard… Very hard.. Apparently the hardest Tour Of Qatar ever. To make the front group every day, every echelon takes some doing! Not only do you have to have a super engine but you need to be able to ride your bike bloody well and have balls of steel. All of these attributes, I can safely say, Mark has in abundance. Congrats Mark…..
I almost forgot to say……. Stage 2 – 81.3kph… On the flat!!! Beat that…………..