Tom Boonen won stage four of the Tour of Qatar to extend his overall lead after going head-to-head with Fabian Cancellara and Juan Antonio Flecha on a stage reminiscent of a Spring Classic.
Strong winds across Qatar’s desert landscape wreaked havoc in the peloton and 16 riders broke free with 10km remaining, with stage three winner Mark Cavendish missing the split.
Cancellara attacked the lead group with 5km remaining and Briton Adam Blythe was the only rider initially able to go with the two-time Paris-Roubaix winner but the BMC Racing rider punctured.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Boonen then bridged the gap with the help of team-mate Gert Steegmans, while Flecha (Team Sky) and Tom Veelers (Project 1t41) also made the final selection.
And that left Boonen to claim the tailwind-assisted sprint ahead of Veelers and Cancellara, with Flecha fourth and Steegmans fifth.
“This is an important step towards the general classification,” said Boonen. “The more difficult the race conditions, the more the riders who are in top shape are emerging. Today our team had a perfect race. Once again Steegmans carried me perfectly. I have great faith in Gert and again today we proved our worth.”
Belgian Boonen now leads the general classification by 31 seconds from Garmin-Barracuda’s Tyler Farrar, while Flecha moved up to third, a further three seconds adrift.
Boonen added: “It won’t be easy to defend the jersey in these next few days but I’m lucky to have a great team with me. “Personally, I feel good and I’m looking forward to the last stages with confidence, even if in the desert flat tyres and echelons are part of the course.”
Meanwhile, the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana – the fourth and final race in the Challenge Majorca series – was cancelled after snow fell on the Soller and Puig Major climbs.
Tour of Qatar stage four
1) Tom Boonen (Bel) – Omega Pharma-Quick Step – 3:03.14 hours
2) Tom Veelers (Ned) – Project 1t4i – same time
3) Fabian Cancellara (Swi) – RadioShack-Nissan-Trek
4) Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) – Team Sky
5) Gert Steegmans (Bel) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +4″
6) Nikolas Maes (Bel) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +11″
7) Yoann Offredo (Fra) – FDJ-BigMat +14″
8) Bernhard Eisel (Aut) – Team Sky – same time
9) Tyler Farrar (USA) – Garmin-Barracuda
10) Ian Stannard (GBR) – Team Sky +36
1) Tom Boonen (Bel) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep – 09:50.50 hours
2) Tyler Farrar (USA) – Garmin-Barracuda +31″
3) Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) – Team Sky +34″