No winner at the Tour of Qatar will ever again dare to delay his arrival for the podium ceremonies, but Mark Cavendish made sure to take time to thank his Dimension Data teammates before accepting the accolades on winning stage 1 to Al Khor Corniche.
Cavendish was certainly glad of Edvald Boasson Hagen and Tyler Farrar’s company in the select winning move, which bludgeoned its way clear in the crosswinds in the opening hour of racing and maintained an average speed of almost 52kph thereafter, never to be recaptured.
In the finale, however, Cavendish relied largely on his own enterprise: he had both the invention to harness himself to Alexander Kristoff’s Katusha lead-out train, and the speed to come past the Norwegian and then hold off Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) to take the win.
“I definitely wanted to be on Kristoff’s wheel, he was the sprinter with the most teammates in the final so I knew they’d take up the lead-out,” Cavendish said after being presented with the gold jersey of overall leader.
“I said to Edvald to stay behind me in case I lost Kristoff’s wheel. As it happened, Katusha did a good lead-out. I was on Kristoff and on a tailwind finish I was able to run up [alongside him] and go. Once I’d got the inside line, the road bore around to the right so I knew that no one could come around on the outside.”
It was Cavendish’s third victory at Al Khor Corniche over the years, though he was quick to point out that he could rely on advice, too, from another former winner in the fishing town north of Doha. Winner here in the colours of Cervélo TestTeam in 2009, new Dimension Data directeur sportif Roger Hammond was behind the wheel of the team car for the first time on Monday.
“I was with Roger Hammond as a neo-pro in T-Mobile and he was the guy who looked after me,” Cavendish said. “Actually in 2009, the first year we didn’t ride together, he won on this finish. We came in the other way and he won, so it’s nice to come full circle.
“I said this morning I wanted to win here as a little hat tip to Rog and I’m happy I could do that. He’s been wicked and I’m happy the first race we’ve done together we’ve been able to get the win.”
For much of Cavendish’s career – as he himself has never been slow to point out – his defeats have often felt more newsworthy than his victories. Hs two losses to Marcel Kittel at the Dubai Tour last week garnered their share of headlines, but Cavendish seemed to exude simple happiness rather than relief at getting his first victory of the new season, and his first in the colours of his new team.
“With the crosswinds it’s a different race here,” Cavendish said when asked to compare his Dubai Tour performances with this first outing in Qatar. “It was a smaller group, it was on all day. It’s about being on all day here. We had a 20-man finish rather than a 200-man finish, so it’s a bit less hectic in the final. It’s different sprinting after 130 kilometres in a bunch to sprinting after 180 kilometres in the front group.”
Cavendish is lining out at the Tour of Qatar for the first time since he claimed four stages and final overall victory during his first season at QuickStep in 2013, and he made a pointed reference to the team’s preference for bringing the core of its cobbled Classics unit to the race.
“Normally Wilfried Peeters’ boys came here, so I’ve been sad not to come back,” he said. “It’s nice to come back here with Dimension Data with a strong team. You can’t win in Qatar without a strong team. It’s not possible.”
The battle for overall honours this year has surely been reduced to the 16 riders who came home almost two minutes clear of the rest on Monday. In the general classification, Cavendish leads Modolo by 8 seconds, and Kristoff and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) by 15, though he was guarded about his prospect of defending the gold jersey beyond the stage 3 time trial in Lusail.
When Cavendish claimed that overall victory in 2013, he was helped in part by the inclusion of a team time trial rather than an individual test. That said, his back catalogue features plenty of fine performances in shorter time trials and, in theory at least, his work with the British team pursuit squad ought to stand him in good stead on Wednesday.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen on GC here because there’s the individual time trial. Normally 10k later in the year I can do ok, but with my form in February not really,” Cavendish said, adding that his teammate Boasson Hagen was more likely to carry an overall threat for Dimension Data. “Ok, he didn’t get a time bonus but he never lost time today, and that should prove fruitful for Wednesday when he can hopefully do a good time trial there.”
On Tuesday, meanwhile, Cavendish will expect to be to the fore once again as the Tour of Qatar peloton tackles what amounts to a test event for the World Championships road race in Doha. The stage incorporates four laps of the Worlds finishing circuit on the Pearl, and is likely to be Cavendish’s only opportunity to reconnoitre the parcours before October.
“It’s not that important but it’s definitely good to know,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be back in Qatar before the World Championships again so it’s good to see it. We’ll do a few laps. I think they’ve changed it, so we won’t see the full circuit but we’ll definitely be going around the Pearl.”