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Mark Renshaw sprints to win and into lead at Tour of Qatar

Renshaw is congratulated by teammate Mark Cavendish.
Renshaw is congratulated by teammate Mark Cavendish.

DOHA, Qatar (VN) — On another blustery day, HTC-HighRoad’s Mark Renshaw showed he can do much more than leadout Mark Cavendish by powering to the win of stage 4 and taking the Tour of Qatar’s golden leader’s jersey with one stage remaining.

Renshaw played off of the Leopard Trek team, which had taken control of the front of the race in the last kilometer and a half of the 154km stage. “I had the perfect wheel, I had the wheel of (Leopard Trek’s Daniele) Bennati,” Renshaw said. “I looked back and I saw Boonen jump and I knew that it was time to go. I’m really happy that I had the power to beat Tom Boonen in a sprint.”

Bennati came in second and stage 1 winner Boonen (Quick Step) was third. Overnight leader Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) was fourth. Haussler said the long week in the Qatari winds has left him a bit flat. “It was hard, really hard. It’s just the last three days were so hard, I started to feel it in the legs in the sprint. I just never had the punch to really get it going.”

Haussler said he was surprised at his good form at the season’s first race.

“I came here not even thinking about winning a stage, just really to find my form, so I’m disappointed to lose the jersey, but it’s still OK,” he said.

Neck-tie course

The stage left from the host hotel in Doha, allowing riders a bit of extra time in the morning without a transfer. The course was shaped like a neck tie, with a big loop to the north, returned for a ways on the same road and then veered west to finish in the village of Al Kharaitiyat.

Once again, stiff winds slammed the peloton from the start and riders fought their way into echelons.

Haussler started the day with a mere 4-second lead over Renshaw, an advantage that could easily evaporate if Renshaw could nab either of the two intermediate sprints. So Garmin-Cervelo was more than happy to let a breakaway of non-GC threats roll of the front and snag the first points.

The break was absorbed soon after the first sprint, and then some aggressive riding by Quick Step got that team’s Gert Steegmans into a 20-man break, along with Garmin’s Gabriel Rasch. Both were far enough up on the GC to make Renshaw’s team nervous. HTC-Columbia’s Jan Ghyselinck was briefly in the break, but after a conversation with the team car, he sat up and waited for the chase group.

“When Steegmans and Rasch went, that was a pretty decisive move and straight away we tried to chase it,” Renshaw said.

The breakaway stayed away through the second sprint, won by Rasch with Steegmans second. Then the gap quickly came down and the break was caught with 20k to go.

Tjingalli and Wiggins go solo

The route returned to a wide, smooth divided highway for the final kilometers, and Maarten Tjallingii launched a determined solo with about 15km to go. Tjallingii never got more than a 20-second gap however, and the remaining front group of only about 26 riders was intact when it exited the highway toward the finish.

With 2 kilometers to go, Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins launched off and led through a series of fast roundabouts. But HTC and Leopard Trek chased him down. Leopard Trek, working to set up Bennati, took control of the front with 1 1/2k to go, and Bennati was the first to jump for the line.

Unfortunately for Bennati, who has been on the podium each stage this week, Renshaw had fought his way onto his wheel and timed his kick perfectly for the line.

Final stage

Friday stage 5 is 126km, from the Sealine Beach Resort back to Doha. There are 16 seconds in bonuses available: two intermediate sprints offering 3-second bonuses and a 10-second bonus to the stage winner. With Bennati and Haussler both within 15 seconds of Renshaw, and Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha just 24 seconds back, it should be a battle of the new season’s powerhouse teams: HTC-HighRoad, Garmin-Cervelo, Leopard Trek and Sky.

“It’s going to be a really nervous day, it’s going to really be a tactical race,” Renshaw predicted.