My season is well and truly up and running; it’s already my 11th day of racing so far this year.
So, the Tour of Qatar, what can I say? It’s pretty much just what I expected. Each and every morning the talk of the peloton is; ‘There’s not so much wind today, it should be a nice day’. Yeah, right! We’ve had howling crosswinds every day so far! That said, it’s not exactly what I expected as I can’t believe how strong my team mates are! Yes, Tom [Boonen] is an animal, but he’s not the only one!
Three to four hours of total concentration every day is what’s needed here. One moment of easing off and you’re either on the floor or out of the back door. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, fighting for three hours in the desert on a bike and in fact it’s not mine either, but one thing is for sure; the work we get done here goes a long way into the season. You can’t replicate the effort we get out here any way or anywhere else.
With the TDU in my legs, I felt a little more at ease than last year’s race when it was race day no.1 That being said, we are at the race with probably the strongest seven guys I have ever ridden with, so the pressure was immediately on. I said last week our aim was to win, and that hasn’t changed.
Our race started pretty well. After a headwind start and a few kilometres of scrapping in the crosswinds, the race split to pieces. We had every single rider in a group of 25. Pretty impressive. The race then made a U-Turn and we blasted towards the finish at some crazy speeds. As you can imagine, the other guys didn’t seem to keen on taking eight Quickstep guys to the finish so the peloton eventually caught us and we started to think about the sprint. Each and every one of us pulled until we couldn’t pull any more and Tom finished it off in style. He demolished the rest and won with ease. Not a bad start!
Day 2 was a Team Time Trial. We had the leader’s jersey to defend and some strong dudes to beat, so the pressure was never off. We did a couple of laps of the circuit and worked out our riding order and how we would ride: one line in the headwinds and tail winds and two lines in the crosswinds. The idea behind this is it’s generally faster in a crosswind to keep the momentum going full gas with all the guys turning equally while in the head and tail winds we stay in one line, giving the stronger guys a chance to do some longer pulls. In a TTT we have to get up to speed gradually and try to stay there with minimum accelerations or changes in pace. The strong guys never ride faster, just longer.
We started well, perfectly in fact. As the leading team we had the advantage of starting last so we always knew were we were at in the standings (radios are allowed in a TTT). After half way we were level with the leaders, Garmin. One small mistake in a corner left the group split in two; at this speed and this intensity the tiniest of mistakes develops quickly into a major disaster. After regrouping we never quite found our staring rhythm again and finished in second place, 7” adrift of Garmin. With the slimmest of margins we still had the jersey, so all was not lost.
Stage 3 was a bit of a disappointment for me; after pulling on the front mid-race to control a breakaway, we hit a crosswind section where the group split to pieces. I still had good legs at this point and should have made the front but I couldn’t quite find that acceleration to get up front. After riding my own rhythm for such a long time at the front these changes in pace always hurt. Anyway it wasn’t to be and I finished in the second group. The guys up front did a good job setting up Tom but Cav was unstoppable and won with ease.
With an average speed of 48kph, today’s stage went pretty fast. Most of the day we had a strong tail wind but the inevitable cross winds came in the latter stages of the race. I did my job early on keeping the boys positioned well and out of the wind. I fought pretty well into the finale but just didn’t have the legs and the position to stay there until the end. We went into the last 5km with three riders in a group of six, including Tom. It was inevitable what would happen. After an awesome show of dominance, once again Tom made it two wins so far here in Qatar and increased his lead in the GC by another few seconds.
Tomorrow’s stage looks like it will be total carnage, most of the day in crosswinds and the longest stage of the race. I’m sure I’ll have a tough job on my hands tomorrow and will finish the day in pieces but I’m relishing every minute of riding with these guys. After so much success in the team so far this year the atmosphere is incredible. I can only see things getting better and better!
Hopefully, by the next time I write I’ll be toasting another golden jersey of Qatar!
Thanks for reading