Tom Boonen of Omega Pharma-Quickstep team celebrates after winning stage two of the Tour of Qatar from Camel Race Track to Al Khor Corniche, yesterday.
DOHA: Producing blistering speed at the final stretch, Belgian rider Tom Boonen won stage two of the Tour of Qatar where overnight leader Niki Terpstra retained the golden jersey in another fine day for team Omega Pharma Quick-Step (OPQ).
Boonen clinched the issue over 160.5-km stage with his trademark finish in strong wind to claim his 21st win in Qatar. However, his team-mates Terpstra and Andrew Fenn ensured that at least three OPQ riders finished in the top seven for the day.
Boonen finished the Camel Race Track-Al Khor Cornich challenge in a time of 3 hours 30 minutes 07 seconds.
Denmark’s Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Belgium’s Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) finished behind Boonen but two were ahead of fifth-placed Fenn.
Danish rider Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo) was sixth fastest while Britain’s Ian Stannard (Team Sky) was a notch slower in seventh spot.
“I think everybody was dead by the end, because when there were only four or five of us who did the sprint, the rest were all left behind in the finishing straight,” Boonen said after winning the stage in strong headwind.
“My saddle went down about 4cm, and was pointing downwards,” Boonen said.
“I was super lucky that I didn’t have a flat tyre or crash.”
Specialists of the Tour of Qatar, especially on windy stages, OPQ managed one of the most impressive performances in the history of the race.
With all eight of their riders in the decisive break, with 50 kilometres to go, the Belgian squad went on to capture stage victory thanks to Boonen, while his team-mate Terpstra kept his overall leader’s golden jersey.
Earlier, the 152 riders of the Tour of Qatar gathered at the Al Sheehaniya Camel Race track for the start of stage two.
Despite several vain attempts, the pack remained bunched until the 13-km mark when the strong men pushed harder and several groups spread apart.
Up front were all the main favourites of the Tour. The front group of around 40 riders was finally caught and the pack bunched up together again at the 22-km mark when two men decided to take off: Gilbert (BMC) and Reijnen (UHC).
After enjoying a 1-minute 20-second advantage, the escapees were caught at the 33-km mark.
The first intermediate sprint (at 34.5-km mark) was claimed by Maes (OPQ) ahead of Terpstra and Kruopis (OGE).
At kilometre 89, Gatis Smukulis (KAT) tried his luck on his own. The Latvian saw his lead reach 2 minute 20 seconds at the 96-km mark.
After a right turn and as the pack headed east, the wind again played an essential part in the day’s stage and OPQ made the best use of it.
After several Tinkoff-Saxo men pushed harder at the front, all eight riders of the Belgian squad managed to be in the front group as the pack broke up.
At the front, 23 men took off and caught Smukulis at the 104-km mark.
Other than the OPQ riders, the only others to survive were Popovych (TFR), Boom, Wagner (both BEL), Eisel, Rowe, Stannard (all SKY), Guarnieri (AST), Smukulis (KAT), Kruopis (OGE), Bennati, Breschel, Juul Jensen, Kroon and Morkov (TCS).
While the second bonus sprint (at the 121.5-km mark) was claimed by Roelandts (LOT) ahead of Boonen (OPG) and Terpstra (OPQ), the first chasing group including Greipel (LOT), Gilbert (BMC) and Démare (FDJ) was 25 seconds adrift.
Further back, it looked to be all over for Fabian Cancellara (TFR), trapped behind a fall and stranded in a dropped group, 1-minute 45-second behind. With 20 kilometres to go, the leaders had a 35-second lead over the first group and 3 minutes 10 seconds over the Cancellara bunch.
With OPQ and Belkin teams working perfectly together, the gap remained the same with 5 kilometres to go.
Time had come to start considering stage victory.
The first attempt came from both Wagner and Boom taking off just before the final straight but they were finally caught at the Red Flame. And there wasn’t much to be done against Qatar master Boonen.
The four-time Qatar winner flew to his 21st stage win, beating Morkov and Roelandts to the line.
Terpstra, who was seventh fastest yesterday, kept command of his GC leader’s Golden Jersey.
The Dutchman now has a five-second lead over new silver jersey Roelandts and 14 seconds over Boonen.
Great Britain’s Fenn becomes the new best young rider of the Tour and will be wearing the ‘White Pearl’ jersey today for what should be a decisive time-trial for overall victory.
The individual time trial will be held at Losail Circuit.
French rider Sebastien Turgot of AG2R La Mondiale procycling team tries to remove his shoes from the bicycle of Dutch rider Lieuwe Westra (not pictured) of Astana after they crashed during the second stage. RIGHT: Stage two winner Tom Boonen is congratulated by Qatar Cycling Federation (QCF) President Sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al Thani. PICTURES BY: SALIM MATRAMKOT