Al KHOR CORNICHE, Qatar (VN) — Tom Boonen stretched out his long-unused sprinter’s legs on Monday, winning out of an 18-man breakaway to take the first stage of the Tour of Qatar and the overall lead.
Prologue winner Lars Boom (Rabobank) started strong on the windblown 146km stage, fighting his way into the early front echelons and protecting his lead by taking second in the first of two intermediate sprints.
Soon after that, however, the Dutchman felt stomach troubles coming on. He eventually had to drop out of the front group and make an unplanned roadside stop. He finished more than five minutes behind the winner.
Boonen (Quick Step), a three-time Qatar overall winner, missed much of last season due to injuries. His last win was at Tirreno-Adriatico last year. He said his last competitive sprint was on stage 4 of the 2010 Tour de Suisse, where he went down in a large crash just meters from the finish.
The stage went from Dukhan, on the western edge of the Qatar peninsula, near the Gulf of Bahrain, to the nation’s eastern shore at Al Khor Corniche. In between was nearly flat desert, with a few scrub trees, the occasional camel and a few settlements. Very strong winds buffeted the race from all directions.
The day started with a tailwind that had the pack traveling 70kph at times, covering 54.8km (34 miles) in the first hour. Several moves went off the front early. Boonen, Boom, second-placed Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) and Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad) were represented in all of them.
A heavily bandaged Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) made it into one early front group that gained a 10-second lead, but he did not make the final 18-man selection, which came together at about the 30km mark. Cavendish finished more than 13 minutes behind the winning break.
Renshaw, known as Cavendish’s leadout man at the grand tours, was riding for himself. He started the day in 12th, nine seconds out of the lead. After winning the first of two intermediate sprints and placing second in the other, he was just three seconds away from the golden leader’s jersey.
Boonen did not chase the intermediate sprint bonuses. “I never go for the intermediates,” he told VeloNews. “There is no victory in that!”
In the S-turn finishing straight, Renshaw jumped out early, then slowed with 250 meters to go, forcing Boonen to come around and start his sprint earlier than he would have liked. The Belgian quickly opened a gap and, tucked up hard against the left fencing, he held off Garmin-Cervelo’s Heinrich Haussler. Renshaw was third.
“I just told myself don’t die, don’t die, don’t die,” Boonen said of his long sprint. “I thought I was slowing down, but I finished I think 10 meters ahead of the second guy, so it wasn’t bad at all.”
Boonen’s decision to skip the intermediate sprints paid off when he took a 10-second bonus with the stage win. Renshaw’s third place on the stage was worth four seconds, and he’s now second on the GC, at four seconds. Cancellara didn’t get any bonuses, but finished in the front group of 18 and is now third on GC.
Stage 2 is held on some of the same roads as Monday’s stage. The 135.5km route goes from the Camel Race Track in the middle of the country, heads mostly north for 50km, then turns south to finish at the Doha Golf Club in Doha.