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Cavendish headed home, then to Algarve after Qatar win

DOHA (VN) — Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) added a second general classification title to his ever-growing palmarès today, winning the Tour of Qatar. The victory came thanks to four sprint wins, and their bonus seconds, in the race’s six stages.

“Yeah. I’m really happy that I wasn’t planning on it, really at all, but it’s just nice to keep the tradition,” he told VeloNews. “Just to carry on the tradition of Omega Pharma-Quick Step winning here. That’s the sixth time now: four Tom [Boonen], one Wilfried [Cretskens] and one me.”

The 27-year-old Brit won the Ster ZLM Tour overall last year for his first professional stage race win.

The Tour of Qatar win came thanks to complete sprint domination. Cavendish bonded with his new team in a way rarely seen last year at Sky.

There were hiccups in the first two of his four wins. On stage 3, lead-out Matteo Trentin broke a spoke, dropping him from the front of the race. The next day, Cavendish and Trentin split around a late roundabout and couldn’t reconnect. Dutch champion Niki Terpstra stepped up on both occasions. For the third win, on Thursday, Terpstra was the designated final man instead of Trentin. The Italian took over again on Friday and successfully finished off the job.

Omega Pharma’s control and delivery today was art in motion. Iljo Keisse, Martin Velits, and Zdenek Stybar pulled through the early kilometers. In the final of the 10 six-kilometer circuits, Stijn Vandenbergh, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, and Terpstra took over.

“The whole week they worked hard, really, really good,” Cavendish said. “I’ll get them a good dinner tonight and somehow find a way to share these business class tickets.”

As he talked on his way to the anti-doping control, a fan appeared on his left to take a photo with him. Cavendish refused to stop, concentrated instead on describing the day.

On his left, scrapes and road rash revealed an earlier mishap. Just about 8km into the 116.5km leg from Sealine Beach, Cavendish crashed with Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing).

“I don’t know. It was just a freak thing,” he said. “Brent crashed, I don’t know what happened, if he went over a bottle or whatever. All of a sudden, Brent’s down. I’m directly behind him and I end up on top of him. It’s even weird going that fast [without] landing heavy.”

Asked about the severity, he added, “It’s a bit deep on me elbow, but that’s about it.”

Cavendish flies home Saturday with the race’s sponsor airline, Qatar Airways. He will travel with Velits and Keisse; the rest will travel to race the Tour of Oman with Boonen.

“I’ll have a couple of days with the daughter and then off again to do the job,” Cavendish said.

He explained that he will race the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, February 13 to 17, and then Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on February 24.

His season began last month in Argentina, where he won one stage of the Tour de San Luís.

“[It’s] a good start,” he said. “I go to Algarve and Kuurne, but like I said, I’d like to just keep winning every race I go to this year.”

Sport director Brian Holm, reunited with Cavendish after a year apart following HTC-Highroad’s demise, is impressed so far.

“The winter went well for him. The most important thing is that he wasn’t sick,” Holm told VeloNews. “He did well in Argentina, I think he’s as good as he can be now for this time of the season.”