Tom Boonen sprinted to victory on stage one of the Tour of Qatar, while Mark Cavendish did not contest the finale on his Team Sky debut having been struck down with illness in the build up to the race.
Boonen endured an injury-ravaged season in 2011 but wasted little time in opening his 2012 account, beating Britain’s Adam Blythe (BMC Racing) and Peter Sagan of Slovakia (Liquigas-Cannondale) to move into the race lead.
Three-time Paris-Roubaix winner Boonen’s victory capped a superb day for Omega Pharma-QuickStep after British neo-pro Andy Fenn won the Trofeo Palma in Majorca.
“I am confident that I can still compete with all top sprinters out there, even though these days that is not my priority,” said Boonen. “Last year at this time I was struggling with pains in my left leg which stemmed from the knee operation I had.
“That dragged on for months and then I broke bones in my hand in the Tour of Spain. Today all that is behind me and at last I am free from injuries.”
World champion Cavendish’s Sky debut was in doubt after the 26-year-old arrived in the Middle East having fallen ill on the flight from London to Doha.
The pan-flat Tour of Qatar is traditionally a sprinters’ haven but the Manx Missile finished in 51st position having turned from team leader to domestique – and Sky directeur sportif declared himself happy with Cavendish’s selfless performance.
“He [Cavendish] was helping out his team-mates during the race, which was a pleasant surprise because we had told him he didn’t have to do anything if he didn’t feel up to it after his illness,” said De Jongh.
“Our only goal for him was that he finished the stage today and he did that comfortably.”