By Shane Stokes in Doha, Qatar
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) took his first individual win of the 2008 season on Monday and found himself in a familiar position, namely leading the Tour of Qatar. He and the rest of the Quick Step team put the hammer down early on in the stage and ripped the peloton apart. He then outsprinted six others to take the stage victory and succeed team-mate Matteo Tosatto as leader of the race.
"It was very hard, very hard," he said afterwards. "The wind was perfect to make a big mess today. Immediately from kilometre zero, the entire team attacked. There was a battle for 60 kilometres, and then a big bunch got back and it was a little bit quieter with the wind in a different direction. Then in the last 30 kms, we just exploded everything. Everybody was completely full gas. It's always fast here but its better when you attack yourself. In that way, you're sure that you're at the front."
Boonen would undoubtedly be happy if he or one of his team-mates wins the race overall. Quick Step has taken the past two editions, with the Belgian winning in 2006 and Wilfried Cretskens coming out best last year. However his bigger target is to ride very strongly in the Spring Classics.
"I still have potential to improve my condition this season. This winter I did as much kilometres as last winter, but I rested a bit longer. Now my next big goal is Milan San Remo. In recent years it went wrong for a few seconds during the race [thus affecting his result] but to win there is my big dream. Qatar is the perfect preparation for it.
"Australia [the Tour Down Under] has more beautiful views, but here it is more ideal to prepare your sprints," he added.