Belgian rider Tom Boonen (right) of Omega-Pharma Quickstep team celebrates on winning stage four of the Tour of Qatar 2014 in Mesaieed yesterday. Pictures by: Salim Matramkot
DOHA: After a day of quite cycling during the time trial on Tuesday, four-time champion Tom Boonen of Belgium yesterday won stage four at the Tour of Qatar where Omega-Pharma Quickstep team-mate Niki Terpstra retained the golden jersey.
Maintaining a speed of 56.8-km/h, Boonen outsprinted German rider Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) to claim stage four that began Dukhan and ended in Mesaieed after the cyclists covered a distance of 135kms.
Dutch rider Barry Markus (Belkin Pro Cycling Team), Lithuania’s Aidis Kruopis (Orica Greenedge) and Ireland’s Sam Bennett (Team NetApp-Endura) completed the top five for the day.
Boonen, who reserved his energy during Tuesday’s individual time trial, yesterday sealed his 22nd stage win in Qatar in a photo-finish.
Boonen - who also nailed stage two on Monday - is now just 18 seconds adrift of OPQ team-mate Terpstra who finished out of the top-10 yesterday but still retained the golden jersey.
Dutch rider Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) is third overall at 20 seconds behind Terpstra in the general classification.
“It helped that I’ve already won one stage. I think you are a little bit more relaxed and you don’t make any mistakes,” Boonen said after the fast-paced stage.
“But it’s also about being in a very good condition, and knowing when you can go: that gives you the confidence not to make mistakes,” the Belgian added.
To those who thought Boonen was no longer a master of sprints, the Belgian gave quite an answer on day four of the Tour of Qatar.
After one of the fastest stages in the event’s history, the OPQ rider made the best of a bunched sprint to beat Greipel and Markus.
A fast stage was to be expected as the 149 riders of the Tour of Qatar gathered in Dukhan, west of the country, for the start of the day’s race.
Strong winds were blowing across the peninsula and were to be favourable along the 135-kilometre course heading to Mesaieed, on the eastern coast of Qatar.
The pace was extremely fast straight from the start. After the pack split after only 4 kilometres and Lars Boom suffered a puncture, all but 50 dropped riders bunched up again at the 36-km mark.
Led by team OPQ, the pack was to cover 58.9 kilometres during the first hour of cycling.
The first intermediate sprint (at 60.5-km mark) that race leader Niki Terpstra failed to fight for, due to a puncture, was claimed by Michael Morkov (TCS) ahead of Roelandts (LTB) and Karsten Kroon (TCS).
At the 87-km mark, Philippe Gilbert (BMC), like on day two, tried his luck at the front, taking with him Jarl Salomein (TSV).
After enjoying a 20-second lead at km 89, both men were caught back as the pack again exploded into several groups at km 96, under the influence of the crosswind.
Around 30 riders including all the OPQ boys powered away while Boom , Fabian Cancellara (TFR) and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) got trapped behind.
The gap grew rapidly and reached 38 seconds at the 120-km mark but 50 men, without Boom and Cancellara, gathered together again with 5 kilometres to go.
The decision was to be made in a bunched sprint on the long final straight in Mesaieed. With some of the best sprinting specialists in the world present in Qatar, the battle proved to be spectacular as Boonen only just beat Greipel.
The difference between both men on the line: 0.003 of a second.
At an impressive average speed of 56.8 km/h, the Belgian claimed his 22nd stage win in Qatar, his second this year after conquering stage two in Al Khor.
Third spot of the sprint went to Dutchman Markus.
Part of the leading group, like all of his team-mates, Terpstra retained command of the overall standings and now has a 17-second lead over Boonen.
Terpstra will carry on wearing the golden jersey on today’s penultimate stage in the north of Qatar.
Thanks to his win, Boonen takes command of the points’ classification while Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (OPQ) remains best young rider.
A smiling Boonen said: “I just let him (Greipel) start and waited until he was on speed, because I knew I had that 100 metre punch.
That’s what I’ve been working on since I started training. It was to get my punch back, that I’ve maybe lose a little bit. But it’s still there, you just have to wake it up a little bit.”the Peninsula