Tom Boonen was all smiles after winning his first race of the 2010 season at the Tour of Qatar on Tuesday.
The Quick Step rider and current Belgian national champion seemed to have lost his sprint in the wake of his personal problems and positive tests for cocaine in recent years but he was as fast as ever at the end of stage three to Mesaieed, beating Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam) and Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank).
It was his 16th career stage win at the Tour of Qatar and the ten-second stage winner's time bonus lifted him to third overall.
Boonen was ahead of a crash that scattered the peloton 300 metres from the finish line. However he admitted it wasn't an easy victory, even if it looked it.
"It was really hard to get everybody organized and it was a real battle with the round-a-bouts in the finale but everybody did a good job," he said of his Quick Step teammates.
"Surprisingly, Andreas Stauff was the last man. I talked to him in the last 15 kilometres and told him to take it easy but he did a perfect job. He dropped me off at 350 to go. It was pretty long, so I waited for a few seconds, but then I had to go and still I had my speed coming out of the corner. I went at 250 metres or something. I was waiting for them to come back to me but nobody came, so I think I was the strongest one."
The computer on Boonen's Eddy Merckx bike showed he had set a maximum speed of 72.8km/h. He was impressed with that, revealing that his fastest ever sprint was at 74km/h against Alessandro Petacchi but with the help of a tailwind.
"It didn’t feel like I was going really, really fast, but I think it was a headwind. So people were dying in the wheel and unable to come back to me. It was a good sensation. I've been working really hard in the last couple months. It’s always good to start it out with a win."
Boonen is now 1:55 behind race leader Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil) with only three stages of the Tour of Qatar remaining. However he has not given up on winning overall for a fourth time in his career; especially if the strong desert winds return for the final stages.
"With a little bit of luck in the upcoming days, the wind will come back, and we’ll have a real battle for the gold jersey," he said.
"I think I still have a chance. I hope so. I'll be trying."