Boonen Wins Stage 4 of Tour of Qatar 2014
After one of the fastest stages in the history of the event, Omega Pharma-QuickStep's former World Champion took advantage of a heavily contested bunch sprint across the finish line to beat André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Barry Markus. Boonen thereby secured his second stage victory of this edition of the Tour of Qatar. Finishing with the sprinters, Niki Terpstra maintained his lead in the general classification.
"Today was a really stressful day," Terpstra commented after being celebrated on the podium. "I had a flat tire during the race, so I struggled to come back. But the team was so strong the guys kept me in the front the entire day. Then they had the power to help Tom (Boonen) in the sprint. It's super nice when you can count on guys like that. In the next two days it will be hard and stressful again. The title of my mission is Stay Awake."
A fast stage was expected as the 149 riders of the Tour of Qatar gathered in Dukhan, situated in the western part of the country, for the start of the day’s stage. Indeed strong winds were blowing across the peninsula and were to be favorable along the 135-kilometer course transporting the riders to Mesaieed, located on the eastern coast of Qatar.
The pace was extremely fast straight from the start. After the peloton fractured into pieces after only four kilometers and Lars Boom suffered a puncture, all but fifty dropped riders bunched up again at kilometer 36. Led by the Omega Pharma–Quickstep team, the pack covered 58.9 kilometers in the first hour of racing.
The victory in the first intermediate sprint (km 60.5), which race leader Terpstra was unable to contest due to a puncture, was claimed by Michael Mørkøv of Tinkoff-Saxo. Jürgen Roelandts (LTB) and Karsten Kroon (Tinkoff-Saxo) tailed Mørkøv. At kilometer 87, Philippe Gilbert (Team BMC Racing), like in stage two, tried his luck at the front, taking with him Salomein.
After building a 20 second lead at kilometer 89, the duo was reeled back in as the pack again exploded into several groups at kilometer 96, under the influence of the dominant crosswinds. Around thirty riders including all the Omega Pharma-Quickstep riders powered away while Lars Boom, Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Démare were trapped behind. The gap grew rapidly and had a 38 second lead at kilometer 120, but fifty riders, excluding Boom and Cancellara, regrouped with 5 kilometers to go.
The stage was decided in a sprint taking place on the long final straight in the city of 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. Boonen's advantage across the finish line was 0.003 of a second.
At an impressive average speed of 56.8 kilometers/hour, the Belgian claimed his 22nd stage win in the history of the Tour of Qatar, his second this year after winning stage 2 in Al Khor. Third spot in the sprint went to Belkin's Dutchman Barry Markus.
"It was one of the fastest races of my life," Boonen explained. "I remember a race like this at Paris-Nice a few years ago, but today was another level of fast. As a team we never tried to split the group. We stayed united to avoid dangers on the road. Everybody survived through the first part of the race. We stayed in front and we never tried to make the race harder than what it already was with the wind. So, we stuck together and maintained some control."
"Near the finish I had the perfect leadout, especially from Andrew Fenn. He did a very good job. He stayed cool and calm, and he led me in the right position. Then I let Greipel go because Roelandts went early, which forced Greipel to start slow and use energy to increase his speed. So I jumped on his wheel, waited until the last moment and tactically it was a nice sprint."
Terpstra remains in control in the general classification and now has a 17 second lead over teammate Boonen and a 20 second lead over Jurgen Roelandts. Tomorrow’s penultimate stage takes place in the north of Qatar. Thanks to his second stage victory, Boonen now leads the points classification. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck remains the best young rider.
"The next two days it will be hard again," Boonen explained. "Probably less windy, but we have to stay focused and pay attention to all the details. Niki (Terpstra) and I are really well placed in the general classification, so we will try to defend his position. Concerning me, I am really happy about this Tour of Qatar and it's nice to reward the team with a victory after a hard day at the office."