Welcome back the the Big Q, the Duel in the Desert, the Belgium on the Middle East. Yes, we’re talking about the Tour of Qatar.
Like dropping a professional ice skating competition into the Amazon jungle, the Tour of Qatar is a bizarre fabrication in the middle of nowhere. Nobody rides a bike in Qatar, there are no bike racing fans in Qatar and this is just a big money deal between ASO and a sheik with an obscene fortune.
But we digress. Qatar has flat roads and warm weather and ergo, bike race. Brent Bookwalter surprised himself and his two breakaway buds by taking stage one. Then he let teammate Taylor Phinney fire up the turbo legs and drive the BMC team time trial. Two days in golden jersey, handshakes from guys in white robes and maybe even champagne if it isn’t outlawed on the podium
Today Bookwalter hung tough for a third day in yellow but it was the Manx Missile firing across the desert that won the day. There was probably a rousing crowd of a hundred spectators at the finish when Cavendish stomped Barry Markus (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Aidis Kroupis (Orica-GreenEdge). Fellas, you ain’t beating Cav in Qatar or anywhere else.
Cavendish made it look easy even if there were a few bumps in the road. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck broke a spoke and exited the train. Niki Terpstra was forced to double man-up, taking his sprinter to the red kite. As Tom Boonen knows from the spring classics, Niki is da man.
The Member of the British Empire was then left to his own devices. They are very fast devices coupled with razor sharp instincts. Cavendish snatched the wheel of Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) with 800 meters to go then said goodbye to everyone 350 meters from the line.
“It was really hectic. I think every team wants to deliver their sprinter but I think there’s this common misconception that you have to have a lead-out now,” Cavendish said. “It’s actually worse if there are more lead-out trains who don’t know what they are doing. It just becomes chaos.”
Besides Markus and Kroupis, the list of victims included: John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling), Edvald Boasson Hagen and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ). Left for dead in desert in Masaieed. Marauding bedouins quickly stripped the bodies and stole the bikes. Such are the inherent dangers of the Big Q.
With three stages left in this epic in the sands, Cavendish is a mere eight seconds behind Bookwalter in the overall. He’s closing fast.