Haussler would have had to win the stage with Renshaw worse than third to regain the leader’s jersey that he had held for two days. His team did its best, chasing down a long-haul two-man break with 12km to go to ensure a field sprint. But Haussler conceded Thursday that his early season legs were spent after a long week fighting Qatar’s winds; the Australian could manage only ninth in Friday’s sprint.
“Coming into the sprint I just tried to follow Haussler everywhere,” Renshaw said. “I tried to stick to his back wheel. With about 20 meters to go he was about tenth wheel, so I knew then all I had to do was cross the line to get the victory.”
Renshaw, best known for leading out Mark Cavendish to dozens of victories, admitted he felt the pressure of riding for himself.
“Last night was the worse sleep I’ve had in quite some time … I’ve never got nervous leading out Cavendish for the biggest races in the world, but I come here and ride for myself and I couldn’t sleep all night.”
Long shot break
The race started at a posh seaside resort south of Doha. About 100 cyclists from a local club, enjoying the first day of the region’s traditional Friday-Saturday weekend, came to the start and gave the race its largest group of spectators of the week.
Almost immediately, the pack split in two in a crosswind, with most of the favorites in the front. The group came back together in a few kilometers and then the day’s break rolled off the front.
Gediminas Bagdonas (An Post-Sean Kelly) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) built a lead of more than five minutes in no time.
The break was almost perfect for Renshaw, who wanted to prevent Haussler from grabbing time bonuses at the two intermediate sprints along the way. The only thing that would have made the break perfect? If it had contained three riders, since the intermediate sprints gave 1-second bonuses to the third rider. So Renshaw made sure he won both of the pack sprints for the third spot, padding his lead to 8 seconds.
Meanwhile, Bagdonas and Van Avermaet worked steadily in the crosswinds, heading north into the capital city, whose distinctive skyline became visible on the horizon early in the race.
The race concluded with nine long laps on a finish circuit, back and forth along the city’s waterfront boulevard. The circuit passed in front of palatial government buildings and a lush park filled with families enjoying the sun.
The pair entered the circuits with a 4-minute lead, and the chase soon began to resemble a track pursuit, with the two men able to measure their shrinking gap each they saw the hungry pack head by on the other side of the boulevard’s grassy median.
Garmin put its full power on the front, with some help from Rabobank, and the gap steadily plummeted, until the pair entered the penultimate 6.5km lap with just under a 1-minute lead. The pair stayed in front — just barely — through the start-finish line to start the final lap.
That task taken care of, the final lap was a full-on battle between Rabobank and Leopard Trek. Leopard hoped to set up Daniele Bennati for a stage win, after a series of podium finishes this week. A stage win also could have vaulted him into second place overall.
Rabobank controlled the front until the final 2k, when Leopard’s Fabian Cancellara took a monster pull, with Bennati and Russell Downing sitting in. But when Spartacus pulled off, Rabobank again took over. Guardini, however, positioned himself well on his own and came out of the field with 100 meters. It was a tight race between him and Chicchi, who was on the opposite side of the wide road, but the younger rider was able to eek out the win at the line. Bos, after all the work of his team in the final kilometers, had to settle for third. And Canadian Dominque Rollin (FdJ) was an excellent fourth, for his best result of the week.
1. Andrea Guardini, Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli, in 2h 44′ 06″
2. Francesco Chicchi, Quick Step Cycling Team, at
3. Théo Bos, Rabobank Cycling Team, at 0:00
4. Dominique Rollin, FdJ, s.t.
5. Roger Kluge, Skil-Shimano, s.t.
6. Denis Galimzyanov, Katusha Team, s.t.
7. Tomas Vaitkus, Astana, s.t.
8. Russel Downing, Sky, s.t.
9. Heinrich Haussler,Garmin-Cervélo, s.t.
10. Michael Van Staeyen, Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator, s.t.