Tom Boonen has claimed his 21st career victory at the Tour of Qatar with victory on stage two of the emirate’s 13th national tour.
Tornado Tom won a bunch sprint at the end of the 157.5km stage from the Al Sheehaniya Camel Race to the Al Khor Corniche with seeming ease, putting several bike lengths into second placed Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Lotto-Belisol’s Jurgen Roelandts, who was third.
Boonen completed a masterclass of riding in crosswinds by his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mates, who placed all eight riders in a 23-man breakaway that rode clear with 53km still remaining.
“From the beginning we went full gas together with Tinkoff and Sky, and we created an immediate action. We went away with about 20 guys, including eight guys of our team. So with that many riders in the group we kept riding during the stage. We only thought about riding, and not the sprint,” Boonen said.
The Belgian former world champion and multiple cobbled Classics winner revealed that a pot hole caused serious mechanical issues, but that he had ruled out waiting for the team car so late in the stage.
“At 5km to go, more or less, I was talking with Nikolas Maes to try and organize a sprint when I suddenly I hit a hole in the road. My saddle went down about 4cm, and was pointing downward. I broke also my wheels. I was super lucky that I didn’t have a flat tire or crash. But at that point it was too late to think about it or change the bike,” he revealed.
“I only thought about going fast for the sprint, not thinking about what could happen. There’s always something at Tour of Qatar to make this race hard — the wind, or an accident for example. So, considering that I am thrilled with this victory.”
Boonen’s efforts capped another day of dominance in the desert for OPQS, who continue to lead the race with yesterday’s stage winner, Niki Terpstra. And the Britain’s Andy Fenn pulled on the white jersey of best young rider, relieving 23-year-old Irishman, Sam Bennett (NetApp-Endura), of the coveted tunic.
Some 152 riders rolled out of the Al Sheehaniya Camel Race track for the second day of this 13th edition of the Qatari national tour. Cross winds remained a feature of the race for the second consecutive stage and within 13km, the race had split. A group of some 40 riders containing many of the pre-race favourites went clear, but their escape was short-lived.
Former world road race champion, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) was the next to try his luck, joined by United Healthcare’s Kiel Reijnen. The pair pulled out a lead of 1.20, but were hauled back within 33km.
Intermediate sprints are a key feature of this unremittingly flat race, and it came as a surprise to no one that the first of the day was won by a rider from OPQS. Nicolas Maes led his team-mate Terpstra across the line, followed by Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEDGE).
With nearly 90km completed, Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) launched a sold bid, and established a lead of 2.20 within just seven kilometres. The Latvian was undone, however, by the crosswinds, and as the peloton swept east, Saxo-Tinkoff, one of the major beneficiaries of the crosswind that split the bunch on stage 13 of last year’s Tour de France, began to force the pace.
OPQS, however, proved themselves more than equal to the challenge, and the men in blue and yellow found themselves joined by some of the strongest riders in the race, including former British champion, Ian Stanard, and his Team Sky colleagues, Bernie Eisel, and the Welshman, Luke Rowe.
A glimmer of hope emerged for riders not wearing the turquoise and black of OPQS at the second intermediate sprint when Roelandts, second on yesterday’s opening stage, was first beneath the kite, followed by Boonen and Terpstra. Roelandts, however, was the sole representatinve of the mighty Lotto-Belisol, so impressive at the Tour Down Under, with team leader, Andre Greipel, in a chasing group with Gilbert and RideLondon-Surrey Classic winner, Arnaud Demare, some 25 seconds behind.
The man likely to be Boonen’s chief rival in the cobbled Classics, Fabian Cancellara (Trek), was suffering a still worse day, and with 20km to go, he and his confederates were 3.10” down on Boonen’s leading group, effectively dropped. Adding to Spartacus’ misery was an obvious willingness between OPQS and Belkin to share the pace making.
Belkin’s Lars Boom was first to blink, and accelerated clear of the leading group with team-mate, Robert Wagner, but the duo were caught as they passed beneath the flamme rouge. Odds on Boonen claiming his first win of his 2014 campaign would have shortened dramatically, and the rider widely considered among the finest of his generation, powered to the line to wrap up his 21st victory in the Qatari state.
Asked why he had sprinted to the finish line when victory was so clearly within his grasp, a smiling Boonen replied that he had eased up once before, at Schelderprijs, and lost the race to “a certain guy named Mark Cavendish.”
“I didn’t sprint to the line then,” Boonen laughed. “So, from that day on, I sprint until the last centimeter.”
Morkov was the best of the rest, while Roelandts moved into second overall with his second podium finish in three days, and is now just five seconds behind Terpstra, who finished seventh, on GC. Boonen is third, nine-seconds behind his race-leading team-mate.
Tomorrow’s 10.9km time trial, to be held at the Lusail motorcycle circuit, is likely to decide the race. Terpstra, twice a member of OPQS’ world beating team time trial squad, will seek to establish an unassailable lead before the final three flat stages remaining.
Tour of Qatar 2014: stage two – result
1) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 3.30.07
2) Michael Morkov (DEN) – Saxo-Tinkoff – ST
3) Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol
4) Andrew Fenn (GBR) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
5) Matti Breschel (DEN) – Tinkoff-Saxo
6) Ian Stannard (GBR) – Team Sky
7) Niki Terpstra (NED) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
8) Marcel Sieberg (GER) – Lotto-Belisol
9) Lars Boom (NED) – Belkin
10) Karsten Kroon (NED) – Tinkoff-Saxo
1) Niki Terpstra (NED) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 6.43.30
2) Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +5″
3) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +14″
4) Michael Morkov (DEN) – Tinkoff-Saxo +20″
5) Marcel Sieberg (GER) – Lotto-Belisol +26″
6) Andrew Fenn (GBR) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – ST
7) Ian Stannard (GBR) – Team Sky
8) Matti Breschel (DEN) – Tinkoff-Saxo
9) Lars Boom (NED) – Belkin +31″
10) Karsten Kroon (NED) – Tinkoff-Saxo