In a race that went down to the very last sprint, Niki Terpstra and Etixx-Quick Step held their nerve to secure the gold jersey at the Tour of Qatar, making it back to-back victories for Terpstra and a grand total of eight for the team at this race. Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) rounded out the podium.
Rider of the race
With three stage wins, third place overall and looking resplendent in the silver points jersey, it has to be Norwegian Alexander Kristoff for me. Last year’s Milan-San Remo winner looks in superb form and I’m not betting against him in any of the spring classics.
We know how strong he is at the end of a long, hard day in the saddle, and two of his three stage victories came from reduced bunch sprints. My favourite was his first win on the long stage two, where the peloton battled the elements and each other all day from kilometre zero. No quarter was given by either the wind, the sandstorm or Etixx-Quick Step, and only 13 riders survived in the front group to contest the win.
Despite saying that he wasn’t in Qatar to contend for general classification, his victories and the bonus seconds they brought meant he started the last stage only 11 seconds behind Terpstra – a stage win and a top-three place in one of the two intermediate sprints would gain him enough to take top spot. Katusha laid out their intentions and gained two seconds at the first opportunity. Unfortunately they couldn’t quite manage victory number four, but I loved that they tried.
Four things we liked (well, three and a bit of a moan)
1. New kids on the block. There were plenty of big-name fast men on the start list, but I have been impressed by three under-25s this week. First, Trek’s 22-year-old Jasper Stuyven. He has followed a solid 2014 season (with a fourth in a stage at the Vuelta amongst the highlights) with three top ten placings this week. With Marcel Kittel unwell and not on top form, Giant-Alpecin switched their focus to Nikias Arndt, and the 23-year-old repaid their faith with two third places.
My last pick is Irishman Sam Bennett. He backed up his great form at the recent Challenge Mallorca to claim a fifth place on stage one. But the best was yet to come on stage six as he soared past Nacer Bouhanni and Andrea Guardini to claim the biggest win of his career to date, and the first of the season for Bora-Argon 18. With his team gaining wild-cards to a lot of top races this years, including the Tour de France, this 24-year-old is a name to look out for.
2. Trials and tribulations. For only the third time the race featured an individual time trial instead of the usual team-based one. The 10.9km course featured enough changes of direction to make it technically challenging in the strong Qatari winds. Media interest was focused on TT World Champion Sir Bradley Wiggins (Sky) in his first – and perhaps last – outing in the rainbow striped skin-suit. He laid down an early marker which was beaten by just one second by Fabian Cancellara (Trek). However, it was Bodnar and Terpstra who provided the surprises of the day. Both are good time triallists and were tipped to take the leader’s jersey. Bodnar matched the time set by Wiggins, but Terpstra produced an exceptional ride to beat Cancellara and Wiggins by eight and nine seconds respectively and take a lead he would not relinquish.
3. Skirmish in the sands. Let me just start by saying I LOVE THIS RACE. It’s true to say that the scenery is not the most interesting, but that’s not what makes this week special. While there may be some stark beauty in desert landscape, it’s the racing and the ever-present promise of echelons that has me hooked. It’s a race for the sprinters and classics riders to hone their skills. Where the racing is hard and tough, and the balance is often decided by which way the wind is blowing – and it is always blowing from the front, from behind or from the side. Watching how teams react to the crosswinds is often an excellent indicator of how races might unfold in the mud of Flanders a few weeks later. I have to say that the tactical battle between Etixx-Quick Step, Katusha and Tinkoff-Saxo was well fought and enthralling, and I look forward to its resumption.
4. Please let us watch it. Now for the moan. I like following a race by Twitter, I sit breathless watching the tweets and pictures rolling in showing the almost constant attacks and splits and echelons of my favourite type of racing, and yet all we get to see is the last few kilometres, if we are lucky.
These desert races – Dubai, Qatar and Oman – are an important part of the early season racing calendar now, and yet it is only the Dubai Tour that has any coverage. To my mind there is better racing to be had at the other two. I just wish we could watch them in the high quality they deserve.
1. Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick Step) 17:36:48
2. Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:06
3. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) +0:09
4. Ian Stannard (Sky) +0:12
5. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) +0:19
6. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:31
7. Luke Rowe (Sky) +0:33
8. Heinrich Haussler (IAM) +0:39
9. Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick Step) same time
10. Andriy Grivko (Astana) +0:41
Link: Official race website
Featured image: The final GC podium (image: Katusha)