Mark Cavendish has claimed his first win for Team Sky, in Stage 3 of the Tour of Qatar today, coming through with a strong burst of speed to pip race leader Tom Boonen of Omega Pharma-Quick Step on the line in a bunch sprit contested by a select group after the wind had caused splits in the peloton. Aidid Kruopis of GreenEdge was third, with big name sprinters mssing the split including Katusha's Denis Galimzyanov and Liquigas-Cannondale's Peter Sagan. Boonen retains the race lead.
The split in the bunch meant that only around 30 riders or so were in the lead group aproaching the finale into a headwind, and with just Bernie Eisel and Juan Antonio Flecha present from Team Sky to support Cavendish, the world champion who had been in doubt for the race ahead of Sunday's stage one due to illness was initially towards the back of the group as the stage headed to its inclusion.
Boonen, seeking what would have been his twentieth stage win in a race he has all but made his own - the Belgian has won the overall title three times - seemed to have timed his burst for the line to perfection. However, Cavendish came up on the outside, drawing level with the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider metres short of the line, Boonen sitting up in acknowledgement that it wasn't to be his day.
Quoted on the Team Sky website, Cavendish said: "I’m very happy with that. I’m still not 100 per cent but we wanted to ride well as a team and if it came down to a sprint then it came down to a sprint. It split up which we weren’t really expecting but the wind picked up and I was looked after by the lads who got me to the front group.
"We didn’t really have to ride once we were in the group. I had Bernie Eisel and Flecha there in the final with me to just keep me in position. I wanted to come off Boonen’s wheel but then [Kruopis] from GreenEdge came over on the right and boxed me in. I had to swing out and I wanted to wait for the headwind finish so left it late and came past Boonen.
"It’s incredible to win [with the rainbow jersey]. I said I wanted to make the jersey proud. You never really get the season going until you get that first win under your belt. So now it’s there I can hopefully get on a roll now and we can win some things."
Cavendish is now third overall, eight seconds behind Boonen, while Garmin-Barracuda's Tyler Farrar remains second. With three stages likely to end in sprint finishes to come and time bonuses awarded at the finish, that could well be the trio that contests the overall title, although as today showed, the importance of riding tactically to avoid getting caught out by crosswinds is vital.
As pointed out by road.cc follower @Manannan_ on Twitter, today's victory isn't actually the first by Cavendish in the world champion's jersey - on 27 December last year, he won the Bikestyle-sponsored hamper cycle race while spending Christmas on his native Isle of Man, so we're happy to put the record straight there.
Tour of Qatar Stage 3 result
1. Mark Cavendish (Sky) 3:23:48
2. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) all at same time
3. Aidis Kruopis (GreenEDGE)
4. Mark Renshaw (Rabobank)
5. John Degenkolb (Project 1t4i)
6. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda)
7. Rudiger Selig (Katusha)
8. David Boucher (FDJ-BigMat)
9. Robert Wagner (RadioShack-Nissan)
10. Alexander Kuchynski (Katusha)
Tour of Qatar overall standings after Stage 3
1. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 6 hours 47’ 49”
2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) at 6”
3. Mark Cavendish (Sky) at 8”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.