Tom Boonen Wins Fourth Tour of Qatar
Tom Boonen won his fourth career Tour of Qatar on Friday, playing it safe on a scrappy bunch sprint where world champion Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) crashed after touching wheels with another rider just meters before the finish. All Boonen had to do was cross the line with the group to take home the gold leader's jersey for Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team.
Arnaud Demare (FDJ-BigMat) won Stage 6, while Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha Team) and Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) finished second and third, respectively. Boonen was the team's top finisher at 15th, while Gert Steegmans placed 18th.
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team worked hard early on in the race to try and bring a seven rider break back. Speeds reached upwards of 55km per hour at one point. Matt Brammeier was spotted at the front of the peloton for the final 14 km as a seven man breakaway was brought back together. He took several hard pulls at the front of a very fast paced peloton.
"Today we implemented an effective strategy," explained Sports Director Wilfried Peeters. "We didn't want to take any chances. A fall would have compromised the work of one week. The guys stayed close to Tom, who didn't want to risk anything. A flat or a fall in the last kilometers would have been a problem. For us today it was important to maintain our leadership in the race. Overall in Qatar we saw a great Tom Boonen but in general a great team, able to also win the classification for teams and to place Steegmans in 4th place. Today Gert also tried to make up a few seconds in the intermediate sprint so he could get to the third step on the podium, but to no avail. The guys rode a tight race and the results have rewarded us. It's been a phenomenal start of 2012 for our team. Now we have to try to maintain this form and this spirit for the races to come."
Steegmans played a crucial role in Boonen's Tour of Qatar victory. He worked through chaos on several races to lead out Boonen for stage wins. Stage 4 was particularly impressive, in which Steegmans, and teammate Nikolas Maes, helped Boonen bridge to a few attacking riders. Steegmans also finished fourth place overall.
However, the entire team worked to protect Boonen every day. Stijn Vandenbergh, Frantisek Rabon, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Brammeier rode hard from the first kilometer to the last to protect their GC leader on Stage 5. Francesco Chicchi did the same earlier in the stage race, but fell ill before Stage 5 and did not start.
Boonen has also won nearly half of all stages since Tour of Qatar began.
"I've never been interested in records," said Boonen. "However it's nice to win this race for the fourth time. After the good test in Argentina I wanted to win in Qatar. There were a lot of competitors here but I was also lucky that the route was adapted to my skills. I built my victory in the first stage and in the fourth stage - both were very difficult – then I concentrated on defending myself in the other stages. Today I didn't want to take any risks, so as not to blow a week's worth of work. I'm satisfied; this is my first step back to high level cycling. Now it will be important to stay calm and concentrate on fine tuning this conditioning. In Oman I'm going to be racing in support of my team mates, who have been fantastic in this start of 2012. There's a great atmosphere on the team, I thank all of them for the fantastic job they've done for me. It would be a dream to be able to help one of them clinch a personal success."
Video courtesy of Eurosport