By Gregor Brown in Madinat Al Shamal, Qatar
Tom Boonen acknowledged that Mark Cavendish is one of the few sprinters that have the power to contend at the top level. On Wednesday the 2005 World Champion from Belgium went head-to-head with the Briton of Team Columbia-Highroad for the first time since June in the Tour of Qatar.
"He is a good sprinter. He knows how to take position. There are only a few guys in the world [of sprinting] who can pass each other. Mark and I are right up with them," Boonen said to Cyclingnews.
Cavendish beat Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam) and Boonen (Quick Step) to take the stage four win in Madinat Al Shamal, Qatar. The 23-year-old persisted up the right-hand side of the road despite a tight space created by the bigger and and older Belgian.
"Sprinting is all about taking opportunities – some times it goes right and some times it goes wrong."
The duo first came to a direct head-to-head battle in the 2006 Tour of Britain stage six. Cavendish did not get the better of Boonen until the 2008 Scheldeprijs.
Boonen will continue to focus on more stage wins to add to his already 15 total in his Tour of Qatar history. He also has his mind on a third overall leader's gold jersey.
"In the past it was easy; there was a sprint every day and I just had to stay on the wheels and sprint. This year it is a little bit tricky.
"I think everybody has been training and the race is getting more serious every year. In the beginning, there were three or four teams, but now the overall level is really high. Also, the wind this year is very noticeable."
There will be no battle on Thursday, as the stage was neutralised due to the passing of Frederiek Nolf.