Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) survived a scare on stage 1 of the Tour of Qatar after crashing with rival Peter Sagan. The Belgian was unhurt and managed to finish second to José Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) in a chaotic sprint on a day that was marked by consistent headwinds and fraught nerves.
“It was a messy day with the headwind and everyone had the nerves even though they knew the headwind conditions would keep it together,” Boonen told Cyclingnews at the finish.
Boonen crashed with Sagan around the second intermediate sprint of the day. Both men quickly remounted and were able to carry on with the Tinkoff-Saxo rider also contesting the sprint, and finishing fourth.
“When Sagan crashed I was on his wheel, and I stumbled over him but I was going about five kilometres per hour when it happened so there’s nothing bad.”
Boonen’s team had been aggressively earlier in the stage. When the race did change direction, as it headed from Dukhan to Sealine Beach, Etixx were quick to test their rivals’ responses with several accelerations in the crosswinds. It worked, with the peloton briefly splitting into three groups midway through the stage.
Although there was a general regrouping the tactic was more successful on the second attempt with Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) both losing time to a group of favourites.
“We tried one time and we got a break going with around 30 guys but then it all came back but I had that crash with Peter. In the final 25 kilometres everyone was trying to do something but with the headwind and then the sidewind playing around all day we ended up with the sprint and I was beaten,” he told Cyclingnews.
The race is far from over, especially with a 10.9-kilometre time trial still to come. One rider who stayed near the front and could feature in the race against the clock was Movistar's Alejandro Valverde, however, Boonen was confident of dropping the Spaniard.
“I only just heard that about the time but that’s good,” he said in reference to Kittel and Wiggins. When asked about Valverde, he replied, “He was up there but I think we can get rid of him one of these days.
“As for the sprint, I was behind Rojas but then lost some ground on him. When I made it back to his wheel it was already over.”