Tour of Qatar Stage 3: Haussler takes stage and overall lead as Boonen punctures
Strong winds leave Belgian no chance of rejoining lead group as Garmin Cervelo man takes another stage
Heinrich Haussler of Garmin-Cervelo is the new leader of the Tour of Qatar, which finishes on Friday, taking his second successive stage of the race after a puncture at exactly the wrong time saw Tom Boonen’s hopes dashed of winning the race for the fourth time.
Haussler held off HTC-Highroad's Mark Renshaw, who now appears to be his closest rival in the overall standings, to take the race leader's goldenjersey which, this being the oil-rich Gulf, is sponsored by Exxon Mobil. Daniele Benatti of Leopard Trek finished third.
Today’s stage covered 150.5km from Al Wakra to Mesaieed, including two laps of a 65.5km circuit and once again the wind was up, whipping up the sand and making life difficult for the riders when they were cycling into it, but boosting speeds to in excess of 80km an hour after at the points where it became a tailwind.
It was when the race encountered the wind side-on around 40km from the finish that Boonen, who began the day with just a one-second lead over Haussler in the general classification lost his grip on the race leader’s golden jersey, which he had taken from Rabobank's Lars Boom after winning Monday's Stage 1.
The Belgian, three times an overall winner of the race, suffered some desperately bad luck, puncturing just as the peloton split into echelons, and there was no chance of him rejoining the lead group of between 25 and 30 riders, including Haussler, which had headed off up the road.
That group also contained Renshaw, who took an intermediate sprint – and a three second bonus – to put himself on the same time as Haussler as the race headed towards the finish.
Each rider had a British team mate to help them out in the break, with Haussler assisted by Roger Hammond and Renshaw joined by Mark Cavendish, heavily bandaged on his left arm and leg as he continues to recover from his crash in Sunday's time trial, but the Manxman was dropped off the back of the group around six kilometres from the finish.
Four kilometres out, Astana's Simon Clarke launched a solo attack, building an advantage of around 100 metres and athough he gritted his teeth to try and stay away, he was swept up on the final corner with the line tantalisingly in sight.
Tomorrow's penultimate stage takes the peloton 153.5km from West Bay Lagoon to Al Kharaitiyat.