Tour of Qatar Stage 1: Boonen 2nd in Reduced Peloton Sprint
As usual, the winds played a major factor in 136km Tour of Qatar on Sunday. The opening stage looked like it might be dictated by crosswinds, as Tom Boonen accelerated and split the peloton into three groups earlier in the stage. But by kilometer 87 the race came back together as the winds changed, leaving behind about 20 dropped riders.
Despite a three-rider attack with 26km to go, the race came back together once again with a little less than 14km to go. That was the last true attempt to prevent a group sprint. Boonen, who also used energy to return to the peloton after a previous crash along with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), was present in the reduced peloton that included many of his teammates. He was able to put himself back in front in the final kilometers to fight for the sprint.
However, with a high pace and a lot of chaos in the reduced group, Boonen was isolated and boxed in on the right side for the finale. JJ Rojas (Movistar) had ideal position on the front of the group for the victory. Boonen was 2nd, and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) was 3rd.
Etixx - Quick-Step will try again at 194.5km Stage 2, from Al Wakra to Al Khor Corniche, on Monday.
"There wasn't anything that went wrong with the sprint," Boonen said. "It was just chaotic for everyone. You couldn't organize anything. In the chaos I tried to get some order by trying to stay up front, as it was a battle for each meter with the wind sometimes ahead or on the side, and the road turned a bit in the final. At a certain point I saw I was alone, so I put in a big effort to get back in front. When I was there Stijn Vandenbergh popped up and put me in position for the sprint. When Rojas went I had to close a gap of two meters, and when I got on his wheel the sprint was over and he won. There was a lot of wind today. I knew there would be nothing much we could do, but I kept trying to make something out of it together with the team. I was a bit scared of the final, we started here a few times so I knew if there would be wind it would be very chaotic. In the end we were lucky that the group split so we didn't have to go with the whole bunch to the final. About the crash with Sagan I think he hit a hole in the road. I just know he was in front of me and we were going pretty fast and then he went down. Sagan really fell hard. I was able to stop in time, but the guys behind me hit me. But it was nothing serious for me, luckily!"