Quick Step’s Tom Boonen sprinted to victory in the third stage of the Tour of Qatar on Tuesday, powering in ahead of Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam) and Saxo Bank’s Baden Cooke at the end of a 136.5km stage from Dukham to Mesaieed.
The stage win – along with a 10-second time bonus – moved the Belgian champion into third place in the overall standings. The two men who initiated a successful break on Monday – Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil) and Geert Steurs (Topsport Vlaanderen) – continue to lead on GC, with a 1:55 advantage over Boonen.
Bonnen’s win was marred by a massive pile-up in the main field as several riders crashed about 200 meters from the line.
“It was really hard to get everybody organized,” Boonen said of his Quick Step lead-out. “And it was a real battle with the roundabouts in the final. But everybody did a good job. Surprisingly, Andreas Stauff was the last man. He dropped me off at 350 (meters) to go. It was pretty long. I waited for a few seconds, but then I had to go to have my speed coming out of the corner. I went at 250 or something. I was waiting for them to come but nobody came, so I think I was the strongest one.”
Trek-Livestrong under-23 rider Taylor Phinney muscled his way up into the top 10 in the sprint, finishing seventh, with compatriot Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) placing ninth.
Haussler called the peloton’s high-speed sketchiness over the final 10km “absolutely unbelievable.”
“It was so crazy, there were crashes everywhere, in the last K even,” Haussler said. “And I think even the last 200 meters, just on the side of me. I just rubbed him. Luckily I didn’t come down too.”
THE OPENING IN DUKHAN
The day began under sunny skies and much calmer conditions than have prevailed in Qatar for the past few days. With the success of Mol and Steurs in mind, riders tried to escape the main field until a three-man early break, including Trek-Livestrong rider Alex Dowsett, Ag2r’s Sebastian Hinault and Topsport’s Steven Van Vooren, managed to get a gap.
“I saw a couple of guys go, and thought it looked like a similar thing to yesterday,” said Dowsett. “So I jumped across. We had 10 to 15 seconds for a good 10K, then suddenly it went out to a couple of minutes. We thought that was going to stick, but I think the group was a bit nervous after what happened yesterday.”
Dowsett’s move was neutralized before the day’s first intermediate sprint and a new break formed up, including Steven Van Vooren (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Gatis Smukulis (Ag2R-La Mondiale). That effort was also reeled in as the race approached the day’s second sprint.
With his 10-second bonus for the win, Boonen leapfrogs Milram’s Roger Kluge into third overall. Had it not been for the UCI leveraging a one-minute penalty against Cervélo after the TTT for illegal contact, Haussler would be in third.
But Haussler said he and his teammates are no longer worried about the overall standings. Instead, he said, the team is focusing on a stage win.
Boonen said he hopes to take GC lead over coming days, using the crosswinds to break the field and dispatch the two leaders.
And if there is no wind?
“If there is no wind, then there is a problem,” he said.
But, as the locals say, ‘Qatar is Qatar.’ And in Qatar, there is always wind.
The race continues Wednesday with a 147km stage from The Pearl, a massive luxury construction project, to Al Khor Corniche on Qatar’s eastern coast.