DOHA (VN) — Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) put all he had into breaking what will likely be an overall Tour of Qatar win for Mark Cavendish on Thursday. He shot free after the intermediate sprint, but was unable to handle the might of Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step team. Cavendish sprinted to his third consecutive win and to what will likely be a GC title on Friday.
“We came into it and we wanted it controlled from the start. The guys just stayed there at the front and controlled it, controlled it, controlled it,” Cavendish said, sitting on the podium after pulling on the golden jersey. “[The team] timed every catch perfectly, they positioned me into every corner perfectly and they gave me a lead-out which was like they’d been doing it for years.”
With the win, Cavendish gained another 10 bonus seconds. Add that to the three he won at the intermediate sprint and he now leads the race by 15 seconds over Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing).
Yauheni Hutarovich (Ag2r La Mondiale) pushed Cavendish to the line and took second. Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEDGE) placed third.
Phinney sits third overall at 20 seconds, and is best young rider.
He placed third in the intermediate sprint at kilometer 127.5 and jumped free afterwards with Bernhard Eisel (Sky), who sits fifth overall, and Cavendish’s eventual leadout man, Niki Terpstra.
“I just tried to play it in my hand, I found a good group going up the road with Eisel and Terpstra, but unfortunately Terpstra wasn’t working. It makes sense since his team has the jersey and he’s not going to work to put me in the jersey,” Phinney said. “Bernie and I had a go, but we needed a couple of more horsepower. It’s better to give it a go than just set back and let Cav’ take it.”
Phinney’s move was short-lived. The break took as many as 30 seconds, but the teal and black train of Omega Pharma pulled them back to set up the finale. Terpstra dropped back and positioned himself for the sprint. Stijn Vandenbergh, Zdenek Stybar, Matteo Trentin and Terpstra — in that order — moved Cavendish into position.
If the last two days seemed chaotic, they made today look like a walk in the park. After a roundabout, Stybar took over at 700 meters to go and started the final push. From there, it was textbook for Cavendish and his mates. Barry Markus (Vacansoleil-DCM), second each of the last two days, failed to make the cut on Thursday, but Hutarovich pushed Cavendish to the line.
“I had four of five guys surrounding me the whole day, just keeping me sheltered. They’re big guys; I never saw the wind and they just rode perfectly,” Cavendish said. “I’ve always had commitment from the guys these last two days, but it’s something about getting together that we didn’t really get the last two days. Finally, today they were just incredible. They rode like a unit like I know Quick Step can, and I was so proud to be at the back of that and I didn’t really have to do anything.”
The only possibility for Cavendish to lose the 12th Tour of Qatar is if he crashes Friday on the run to Doha or if a team succeeds in getting the jump on him for time bonuses. Sky and BMC Racing appear most capable of doing so, but Phinney pointed out that it is hard to break free on the final stage, which includes 10 six-kilometer circuits.
Making matters worse, the forecasters call for more of the same: calm and blue skies, nothing like the high winds that ripped through the peloton one year ago.
Phinney remains happy, though. He is logging the miles ahead of the Tour of Oman and a run at the classics.
“I feel great. I’m still a little sore from my tumble a couple of days ago, but it’s not affecting my riding as much as I would’ve thought. I’m a lot stronger than I was last year here, and that’s a good sign,” Phinney said. “I’m looking forward to Oman a bit because it’s definitely a little more challenging with a bunch of hills. I’ll get to test my newfound semi-climbing legs. I’ll see if they exist or not.”