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Having made it into a 16-rider front group, Cavendish took his first win for Dimension Data on a windy opening stage of the Tour of Qatar with Modolo in second and Guardini in third; the Brit also took the overall lead

Photo: ANSA - PERI / DAL ZENNARO

ANDREA GUARDINI

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MARK CAVENDISH

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NTT PRO CYCLING TEAM

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SACHA MODOLO

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TOUR OF QATAR

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08.02.2016 @ 14:02 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a frustrating Dubai Tour, Mark Cavendish finally got his first win for Dimension Data when he came out on top in a sprint from a 16-rider group on a windy first stage of the Tour of Qatar. Having made the selection when the peloton split early in the stage, he came off Alexander Kristoff’s (Katusha) wheel in the sprint and easily held off Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Andrea Guardini (Astana) to take both the stage victory and the leader’s jersey in the five-day race.

 

After testing his legs at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Mark Cavendish was looking forward to proving himself in the star-studded field of sprinters at the Dubai Tour. However, the Brit left the UAE frustrated after he failed to beat Marcel Kittel in the two bunch sprints that he contested and his GC hopes were dashed by an untimely puncture.

 

Cavendish travelled straight to Qatar where he aims to make up for the disappointment and return to his winning ways in an event that has always been a happy hunting ground for him as he has won 8 stages and the overall in the past. Apparently, the desert state suits him very well as he broke his short drought already on the opening stage.

 

However, it was no mean feat for Cavendish to get the chance to sprint for the win at Al Khor Corniche on the small peninsula. As it is usually the case in Qatar, the windy conditions turned the opener into a selective affair and the peloton split into pieces in a frantic opening hour.

 

Cavendish was on his toes and both he and teammates Tyler Farrar and Edvald Boasson Hagen found themselves in the 21-rider group that was formed in a stage that never allowed an early breakaway to get clear. The star-studded group also included Alexander Kristoff, Sacha Modolo, Andrea Guardini, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) and Manuel Quinziato (BMC) and as most of the big teams had riders in front, it was clear that they would have a big chance of staying away.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo were the big losers and worked hard in a second group that was one minute behind for most of the stage but they never made it back and inside the final 20km, it was clear that the group would stay away. That prompted sprinters like Cavendish, Modolo and Guardini to skip their turns and save themselves for the final sprint while Kristoff as still contributing to the pace-setting.

 

That decision could have been costly for the three fastmen as BMC made an attack with 14km to go. They did their best to split the field and managed to get rid of Chris Jones (Unitedhealthcare), their teammate Daniel Oss, Farrar and the Giant-Alpecin pair of Zico Waeytens and Tom Stamsnijder. However, the sprinters all made the selection and 16 riders were still together when things calmed down with 12km to go.

 

The attack was a wake-up call and apart from youngster Søren Kragh Andersen (Giant-Alpecin), everybody was contributing to the pace-setting as they approached the finish. Meanwhile, the second group was now distanced by 1.20 and was losing ground.

 

The cooperation worked well until Katusha took full control with 3km to go where they lined up their four riders on the front. Sven Erik Bystrøm took a first turn before Michael Mørkøv took over and he led the group onto the 1300m finishing straight.

 

Bystrøm was back on the front and led the peloton past the flamme rouge before he swung off and left it to Viachslav Kuznetsov to do the lead-out for Kristoff. The Norwegian was delivered in the perfect position but Cavendish had won the battle for the Norwegian’s wheel, followed by Boasson Hagen, Modolo and Guardini.

 

However, Kristoff didn’t have his usual power and as soon as he started his sprint, he drifted backwards. Cavendish easily passed him and was in a class of his own, crossing the line with a solid advantage over Modolo and Guardini who rounded out the top 3. Kristoff had to settle for fifth behind Bennett.

 

Cavendish got 10 bonus seconds for the stage win and as he had also picked up 5 seconds in the intermediate sprints, he now leads Modolo by 8 seconds while Guardini is 11 seconds behind in third. He will try to make it two in a row in tomorrow’s second stage which is the big dress rehearsal for the World Championships as the riders will do three laps of the Worlds circuit after an opening section in the desert north of Doha. In the end, they will head to the university for what is expected to be a bunch sprint.

 

A flat desert opener

The 15th edition kicked off with a 176.5km stage that brought the riders from Dukkhan on one side of the peninsula to Al Khor Corniche on the other side. It was a typical completely flat course in the desert that included several changes of directions where the peloton could split in the crosswinds before they headed to a non-technical finish at the seafront.

 

It was a sunny day with a moderate wind when the riders gathered for the start. All riders that had been registered on the start list were present as they headed out for their first ride.

 

The peloton splits up

Not much wind was forecasted but the crosswinds danger still made the peloton extremely nervous from the start when the riders left Dukhan. Preben Van Hecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) was the first to launch an attack and more riders tried to give it a go but it was mostly a big fight to avoid missing any splits.

 

After half an hour of racing, the first major group of about 30 riders dropped off and they chased about a half a minute behind the front group for some time. One of the riders to have missed the move was time trial specialist Damien Gaudin (Ag2r) who tried to bridge across on his own

 

21 riders get clear

Katusha, BMC and Dimenion Data were very active, and they managed to create a major split after an hour during which the riders had covered 52.5 kilometers! While Fabian Wegmann (Stölting) crashed, 21 riders got clear and the group was a bit of a star parade as it included most of the biggest names.

 

The group consisted of Alexander Kristoff, Sven Erik Bystrøm, Viacheslav Kuznetsov, Michael Mørkøv (Katusha), Mark Cavendish, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data), Søren Kragh Andersen, Tom Stamsnijder, Zico Waeytens (Giant-Alpecin), Greg Van Avermaet, Daniel Oss, Manuel Quinziato, Michael Schär (BMC), Sam Bennett, Zak Dempster, Rudiger Selig (Bora-Argon 18), Arnaud Gerard (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Andrea Guardini (Astana), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida ) and Chris Jones (Unitedhealthcare). After 65km of racing, they had a lead of 28 seconds over a second group while the peloton was 52 seconds behind.

 

The gap grows

A few crashes had contributed to the splits and Tom Bohli (BMC) and Matej Mohoric (Lampre-Merida) were both forced to withdraw.

 

The peloton was soon out of contention while the front group slowly extended their advantage over the second group to 50 seconds. Everybody was contributing to the pace-setting and this made it a fast start with an average speed of 52.1km/h during the first two hours.

 

Kristoff wins the first intermediate sprint

Just before the first intermediate sprint, Farrar punctured out of the front group but he managed to return after Kristoff had beaten Cavendish and Modolo in the battle for the bonus seconds. As they entered the final 70km, they had an advantage of 1.05 over the second group.

 

The conditions were no longer dangerous so it was now just a big battle between the two groups. Everybody was working well together in the first group while most of the teams that had missed the move, were active in the second group. LottoNL-Jumbo and Topsport Vlaanderen all did a lot of work but they saw the gap go out to 1.30 with 65km to go.

 

Cavendish wins the second sprint

The gap again dropped to a minute and with 52km to go, it was even down to 50 seconds as LottoNL-Jumbo seemed to up the pace. However, they never got any closer and for most of the time, the gap hovered between 0.50 and 1.00.

 

With 28km to go, the riders contested the second intermediate sprint and this time Kristoff decided to save his legs. Instead, Kuznetsov for Katusha but he had to settle for second behind Cavendish while Van Avermaet was third. Further back, the second group was about to give up and as they entered the final 20km, they started to lose time and so it was left for the front group to battle it out for the win.

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