DUKHAN BEACH, Qatar (VN) — Brent Bookwalter (BMC) won the first stage and donned the leader’s jersey in the Tour du Qatar on Sunday.
The American out-sprinted Martin Elmiger (IAM Pro Cycling) and Grégory Rast (RadioShack-Leopard) to take the honors at the conclusion of the windswept 145km stage from Katara Cultural Village to Dukhan Beach.
The three escaped late in the stage as the peloton was reforming after being sliced into pieces in the desert crosswinds. They built a lead of 45 seconds at one point and barely held off the chase by Mark Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step team.
Bookwalter said he was hoping his breakaway companions would start sprinting farther out.
“But they left it really late — they’re both smart, really strong riders,” he said. “But I was able to tuck in just for a second and get around them. I had been telling myself that I was going to win, but it was a shock to see my wheel go over that line first. It was a feeling I haven’t had in a really long time, so it was really special and exciting.”
The race continues Monday with a 14km team time trial.
“We looked at the course yesterday and it’s a pretty typical, Qatar affair,” Bookwalter said. “It will be windy and there’s a couple corners and turnarounds but we have a really good team for it. Today, the guys were really strong and I think we’ll show that again tomorrow.”
With time bonuses, Bookwalter leads Elmiger on the overall by four seconds with Rast third at six seconds.
The goal going in was to race for Taylor Phinney, but conditions may dictate otherwise, according to assistant director Jackson Stewart.
“The guys did everything according to plan today,” Stewart said. “We knew we were always riding for Taylor and he got a few time bonuses. The only thing we’re worried about now is the winds might down die down a little bit. So we are wondering how much harder the stages will be if that happens and how much time is out there to get.”
Phinney, who finished eighth on the stage in the same time as Bookwalter, won the first intermediate sprint and took third in the second to earn the best young rider jersey. He sits fifth overall, six seconds off the lead.