DOHA, Qatar (VN) — Australian Michael Hepburn won the stage 3 individual time trial at the Tour of Qatar Tuesday, putting in a 13 minute 28 second effort, just one second under his nearest competitor, Lars Boom (Belkin). Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo) finished third and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) fourth, six seconds behind Hepburn.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra retained his overall lead with a fifth-place ride, now sitting 21 seconds in front of Belgian Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol). Barring a serious incident at the wrong time, Terpsta is now poised to take the overall win three stages from now, given the strength of his Omega team.
The clear prize of the day, though, went to the 22-year-old Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge), who put his time up early in the day, starting 12th of 151 riders, and had to ply the waiting game.
“I started pretty early. I felt like I had a good ride, but I wasn’t too nervous. There was lots of big names still to come. I expected them to top me. I wasn’t nervous until an hour to go, and I realized that maybe there’s a chance I could win,” he told reporters. “I was actually texting my dad live updates, when each rider came. And unfortunately my phone battery went flat with about 10 minutes to go. So I didn’t know. Then we sat in the car together the last couple of minutes, as Terpstra and Boom came in. Just stoked, you know? It’s an unbelievable feeling, in the first outing of my national colors.”
Hepburn is the Australian national champion in the time trial, and has been a world champion on the track in pursuit events. But there was no mistaking his excitement in Qatar. He said the effort was complex, given the conditions and short distance.
“There was a few changes in direction. We started with a crosswind, then you go into a head and tail [wind]. And then it’s quite fast to the turnaround point the last few kilometers, in the headwind. … I tried to just get up to speed, get aero, and hold up the speed. It looks like I was pretty quick over the last few kilometers, so that was a good sign,” he said. “Sometimes if you lose by half a second, you go back and think ‘what could I have done different? But I was happy with my ride afterward. I couldn’t have done anything better. I rode to the power, had good speed. I was really satisfied.”
Cancellara was also satisfied with his performance, even though the Swiss star came up short.
“In the end, the last three kilometers, they were pretty hard. And yeah, I think I started to feel the race days,” he said. Cancellara is the only rider lining up at the three races making up a three-week Middle East swing, in the Dubai Tour, which closed Saturday, and the Tours of Qatar and Oman. “The power was missing. And that’s also an omen. We knew that … I’m not surprised. I’m OK with that … I have other ambitions, other goals. I just do what I have to do, and that’s making race kilometers and seeing that I come out of it without crashes,” he told reporters.
American Evan Huffman (Astana) said he set out to ride 400 watts for the effort, which he did. “[It’s] not very technical, but it’s windy,” he said. “It makes it difficult to pace. You’ve got to go harder in the headwind and easier in the tailwind. You can’t just coast. Because in the end it’s only 14 minutes or so. You’ve got to be suffering pretty bad the whole time.”
The Tour of Qatar continues Wednesday with a 135-kilometer fourth stage, from Dukhan to Mesaieed.