Qatar heroes: Boonen & Cavendish.

Boonen. Sheik of Qatar.

Latest news from the big Q, the duel in the desert, the Flanders of the Middle East.

Based on five stages so far, two things have been made abundantly clear in Qatar. FIrst, Mark Cavendish is off to a fast start and more ominously for his rivals, is showing that he doesn’t need a big HTC-Highroad train to kill people and embarrass the slow.

In today’s stage that began at the Camel Track! and finished at Al Khor Corniche, the Manxman used his experience and tactical skill to pick his way through traffic before blasting past everyone. For sprinters who hope Cavendish will have less team support in the Tour de France thanks to Bradley Wiggins, this was a depressing development. He might not even need it — the rainbow wins solo.

“I’m really happy to have won. It’s my second stage win here this week, and my team did a great job protecting me and keeping me up there for the final push,” said Cavendish who only needs a push on those big mountains in France.

Second, while a stage race in Argentina and a few sprints in the desert aren’t definitive proof, Tom Boonen (Omega-Pharma-Quick Step) also looks sharp, confident, tanned and 100% recovered from the long list of injuries. He won in San Luis and in Qatar and best of all, seems relaxed and happy again. That’s good news for everyone waiting for the Cancellara-Boonen-Hushovd throw-down in Paris Roubaix.

“Everybody was very fresh in the final so it made for a very hectic finish,” said Boonen. “This finish line has been good to me and it has been bad to me in the past. But the most important thing for today was to consolidate the golden jersey for tomorrow and preserve the good work we have done this week.” Barring catastrophe, Boonen will win his fourth Tour of Qatar overall title. That’s a lot of sand.

And bonus third observation. Poor Filippo Pozatto continues his amazing run of bad luck. After an ugly departure from Katusha, the Global Russian Cycling Shindig! and a new contract with Farense Vini-Selle Italia, he had big plans for this season. A broken right clavicle puts a crack in race schedule.

“I don’t know how long it will take, but it’s certain that I will return to Italy for the operation (I think I’ll need one),” Pozzato said via Twitter. While his massive back tattoo proclaims “Only God Can Judge Me” we can all judge him as hard luck.

Twisted Spoke says bring on Oman, the Paris-Roubaix of the shifting desert sands. Expect a full preview and report from famous Muslim cycling journalist Abdul Al Salaam.

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