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The Tour of Qatar pack is seen on the Doha Corniche with the city skyline in the background during the sixth stage held between Sealine Beach Resort and Corniche yesterday. PICTURES: SYED OMAR AND AGENCIES
BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: British cycling star Mark Cavendish yesterday won the Tour of Qatar by clinching the sixth and final stage in glorious winter sunshine at Doha Corniche.
The 27-year-old, who produced yet another fast sprint to the finish line, won his fourth successive stage in a time of 2hrs 24mins and 31secs.
Cavendish, who played second fiddle to BMC Racing Team’s American rider Brent Bookwalter in the first two stages, completely dominated the next four to win his first major trophy in the Middle East.
“I am over the moon. This has been a fantastic week for me and my team,” the Omega Pharma Quick-Step rider said after picking two jerseys at the presentation ceremony.
Starting the sixth leg from Sealine Beach Resort, Cavendish remained with the bunch throughout the stage but popped up with purpose near the end.
The Briton, who has won 23 stages at the Tour de France, the fourth on the all-time list, edged Yauheni Hutarovich of Belarus and Dutchman Barry Markus in the sprint that concluded the 116km stage.
On the sixth and final stage of the event, the Brit first witnessed a big fright when he hit the ground after just a few kilometres. Unhurt, he later powered to glory when he out-sprinted Hutarovich and Markus to the finish.
Bookwalter, who wore the yellow jersey on the first two days, was behind by 25 seconds in the general classification.
Adam Blythe, another British rider, finished fourth, 30 seconds behind the winner.
Yesterday’s stage win was Cavendish’s fifth this year.
The Briton picked up a stage win at the Tour of San Luis in Argentina last month and then followed it with four more this week.
“It was like Al Khor actually,” Cavendish said when asked to recall the sprint in the last 400m yesterday.
“I won there in 2009 and this week also. The guys were just going, going and going. The other teams jumped ahead with four laps to go.
“I wasn’t too bothered as I kept my pace. And I kind of go alone because there were guys to my right and left. I tried to leave it late. The leadout was in the last few hundred meters.
“I had a crash this morning. I had treatment. None of the (affected) teams knew what happened,” the Briton added.
“But that’s bike racing for you. I was away soon.
“I am so delighted. I came here and struck bonus points with nothing guaranteed overall. My guys were incredible here. They rode so well here.
“I am proud of them. This team has won titles in Qatar previously but I didn’t have any wins here. So I am really happy to have done that,” Cavendish said.
The Brit didn’t experience a smooth ride yesterday as he was to suffer a fall as soon as km 8 when he hit the ground. Bookwalter also hit the road in the fall.
It was a big fright without big consequences as Cavendish was able to hop back on his bike unhurt and returned to the pack.
Despite several attempts, the pack remained bunched all the way to the first intermediate sprint (at Al Wakra, km 38.5) won by Mark Phinney (BMC) ahead of Bernhard Eisel (SKY) and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (OPQ).
At the 40km-mark, the first real breakaway occurred as five men took off: Yaroslav Popovych (RLT), David Boucher (FDJ), Michel Kreder (‘VCD), Vladimir Isaichev (KAT) and Matthias Friedemann. But despite having a 20sec lead, they were gobbled up by the pack just two kilometres later.
Team Omega Pharma Quick-Step remained in the front positions of the pack, preventing any kind of attack. Once on the final circuit, the pack stayed bunched during the remaining 10 laps.
The second bonus sprint at the fourth crossing of the line (km 74.5) was claimed by attacking Van Avermaet (BMC) ahead of his team-mates Blythe and Phinney. The stage was to end with a bunched sprint. Well led out by his team-mates, Cavendish claimed his fourth consecutive win, beating Hutarovich and Markus to the line. The Brit now has eight stage victories in Qatar under his belt, compared to Tom Boonen’s 20. THE PENINSULA