MADINAT AL SHAMAL, Qatar (VN) — The gorilla shed a monkey off his back on Thursday in the desert winds, taking a sprint finish in the fifth stage at the Tour of Qatar.
André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) made good on a sterling performance by his team late in the stage by leaping out from behind Aidis Kroupis (Orica-GreenEdge), who poached the Lotto leadout train. It appeared that the German had perhaps gone too early in the finishing straight, as he did yesterday when he lost to Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) by a bike throw, but this time it wasn’t at all close.
“Maybe I was a bit — I put a little bit of anger in my sprint today,” he said at the finish. “Today I was sure.”
A four-man breakaway got away early in the crosswinds and battled through a long, miserable straight section of four-lane highway toward the coast, battered by a savage headwind. Lotto did a bulk of the crucial work late, knowing its time was running out for Greipel, who had been skunked thus far on the peninsula.
“I think Quick Step wanted to let the breakaway go today, so we took the responsibility and tried to set up a sprint and I think the team did a really good job during the whole stage to chase a breakaway down and also to keep me out of trouble in the last kilometers. It was really important to be in front at two kilometers to go. And yeah, we tried to make it like this, and it worked pretty well,” he said.
The win came as something of a relief for Greipel, one of the world’s best sprinters, but recently overshadowed by the likes of younger countryman Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). And though neither is here, Cavendish’s Omega Pharma team has been formidable, taking three stages on offer, with Niki Terpstra in the leader’s jersey. Boonen has beaten Greipel en route to victory twice.
Asked if he felt relieved, he was honest. “Of course. Yesterday we were close to the victory. Today it went better. Today I had a strong team,” Greipel said. “I think I was also concentrated yesterday, but there’s just one guy who can win. Yesterday it was Tom; today it’s me. That’s racing.”
The 159km stage fought the peloton tooth and nail, forcing it to finish much later than anticipated. The Tour of Qatar wraps up tomorrow with a finish in Doha, an expected victory lap for Terpstra and Omega Pharma. Greipel, meanwhile, will look toward Oman, and then further down the line. His only true goal in this swing of racing, he said, was “to finish this race in one piece.”
“That is my goal. … We wanted to win a stage here, and now we have it. At the end, the last four days were really hard,” he said. “And Oman is also important for the classics. And I think this is the next step to prepare for the classics.”