Nothing to be done. Stage 2 of the Tour of Qatar began unfolding towards an ineluctable conclusion from the moment all eight Omega Pharma-QuickStep riders massed in the winning 23-man move, but Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) fought gamely to defy the odds all the same.
Roelandts attempted to anticipate Tom Boonen by jumping early in the sprint finish on the seafront at Al Khor Corniche, but he was simply unable to match his fellow Belgian’s power into the headwind over the final 100 metres. After second place behind QuickStep’s Niki Terpstra on stage 1, he had to settle for third behind Boonen on Monday.
"I was there with [Marcel] Sieberg and he kept me out of the wind," Roelandts told Cyclingnews as he sat in the boot of the Lotto-Belisol team car just past the finish line. "He did a perfect sprint for me: we passed Terpstra with 400 metres to go, then [Andy] Fenn and then Boonen. I started my own sprint then with 150 metres to go, but it was a full headwind and Boonen was too strong."
Surpringly, Roelandts and Sieberg were the only Lotto-Belisol riders to make the split when Omega Pharma-QuickStep wound up the pace in the crosswind in the final hour of racing. A second echelon formed just behind, including Lotto’s sprinter André Greipel and teammate Lars Bak, and they fought to keep the leaders in sight. Having just clambered aboard himself, Roelandts was powerless to stop the QuickStep bus from pulling away, and Greipel was left on the platform, his ticket flapping in the wind.
"We couldn’t wait," Roelandts said. "We weren’t riding on the front. If they came back, then they came back, and we were just saving the energy for the final. But they didn’t come back, so in the end, it was up to us to try and win the stage."
By finishing third on the stage and picking up a three-second time bonus at the second intermediate sprint, Roelandts remains in second place overall, and cut his deficit on race leader Niki Terpstra to 5 seconds. Such was the alarming collective strength of the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team on Monday, however, Roelandts acknowledged that it would be a big ask to dislodge one of their number from the gold jersey.
"Terpstra and Boonen are both in really good shape, like the whole QuickStep team actually. You could really feel it when they did their turns on the front, they were producing a lot of power," he said. "I’m ok in a TT [stage 3 is a 10km time trial at Lusail] but we’ll see."
Roelandts’ primary objective in Qatar, of course, is to prepare for the cobbled classics. A fine third place finisher at the Tour of Flanders last year, the 28-year-old is aiming to make another significant progression in 2014. Certainly, Roelandts has been on the right side of every split in Qatar so far, and he is hopeful that augurs well for what is to come on the cobbles in April.
"I think I’m still second on GC and closer to first, but really I’m here for preparation," he said. "I had no stress before the start here, but obviously I have good legs, otherwise I wouldn’t be up there."