Tour of Qatar, Stage 4

Belgium’s Tom Boonen, swept along by high winds, claimed the Tour of Qatar’s fourth and penultimate stage on Wednesday by a matter of centimetres from Germany’s Andre Greipel. The Omega Pharma rider, who also took Monday’s second stage, moved up from fourth to second, 17 seconds adrift, behind his teammate Niki Terpstra in the overall standings with only Thursday’s fifth and final stage remaining.

   Boonen annexed the blustery 135 kilometer ride from Dukhan to Mesaeeid in a tight bunched sprint finish, denying Greipel by just five centimeters, with Barry Markus of the Netherlands in third. The riders were pushed by the strong winds on their backs to produce a super fast average pace of 56.8kph.

   The stage finished 35 minutes quicker than forecast, catching among others catering staff in the riders’ village unawares. This was the 33-year-old Boonen’s 22nd stage win in Qatar where he’s seeking to add to his previous wins in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012.

After a tiring day’s riding the evergreen Belgian commented: “With this wind on your back we were really made to suffer. To control the peloton which is going so fast is no easy thing to do. Once again we’ll sleep well tonight.”

   French sprinter Arnaud Demare, who came in seventh, added: “Our legs were sometimes doing 110 turns per minute”

   Boonen’s performance here this week has proved he is back in form after missing the second half of last season, including the world championships in Florence, with a saddle injury.

“I really like the 2014 Boonen as it takes after the 2012 model (Boonen won four races in 2012),” said Omega Pharma manager Patrick Lefevere.

   The race concludes Friday with a 159km ride from Al Zubara Fort to Madinat Al Shamal.

   1. Tom Boonen (BEL/Omega Pharma) 2hr 22min 34sec, 2. Andre Greipel (GER) s.t., 3. Barry Markus (NED) s.t., 4. Aidis Kruopis (LIT) s.t., 5. Sam Bennett (IRL) s.t., 6. Jacopo Guarneri (ITA) s.t., 7. Arnaud D‚mare (FRA) s.t., 8. Michael Vn Staeyen (BEL) s.t., 10. Barnhard Eisel (AUT) s.t.
   Overall standings
   1. Niki Terpstra (NED/Omega Pharma) 9hr 19min 38sec, 2. Tom Boonen (BEL) at 17s, 3. Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) 20, 4. Ian Stannard (GBR) 37, 5. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (BEL) 47, 6. Michael Morkov (DEN) 48, 7. Marcel Sieberg (GER) 51, 8. Stijn Vandenbergh (BEL) 1:00, 9. Karsten Kroon (NED) 1:21, 10. Philippe Gilbert (BEL) 1:23
The 135km 4th stage at Tour of Qatar was fast, and far from easy. The race speed averaged more than 50km/h, several riders dealt with punctures due to holes in the road, and the peloton split into several groups. Luckily, OPQS played their cards perfectly and remained in command throughout the race.

OPQS remained in the front group and were a factor in all the intermediate sprints to protect the GC lead of Niki Terpstra. They also gave some help to Tom Boonen, who was in 4th overall going into the stage. When the race came back together in the final kilometers, OPQS stayed in control on the front to set up Boonen for his sprint.

Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) had other plans, but Boonen was able to earn his second victory at the 2014 edition of Tour of Qatar – and the 22nd at the race in his career – with a bike throw.  Barry Markus (Belkin Pro Cycling Team) was 3rd. The photo finish showed Boonen took the win by mere centimeters.

“It was one of the fastest races of my life,” Boonen said. “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 was already 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 Jurgen 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.”

Thanks to OPQS again dominating another battle in the wind, Terpstra remains in the Gold Jersey, and Boonen powered his way into 2nd place overall (+17″).

“The next two days it will be hard again,” Boonen said. “Probably less windy. But, we have to stay focused and pay attention to all the details. Niki and I are really well placed in the GC, 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.'”

Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and and Stijn Vandenbergh are also 5th and 8th overall. OPQS is in fantastic position going into the 159km Stage 5 on Thursday.

“Today was a really stressful day,” Terpstra said. “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 for 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.'”

PHOTO: Tim DeWaele

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