Mark Cavendish ultimately ran out of road in his bid to overhaul Alexander Kristoff in the bunch sprint on the concluding stage of the Tour of Qatar, but he did enough to secure overall victory on Doha’s Corniche for the second time in his career.
It took a careful examination of the photo finish before the commissaires were willing to separate Cavendish and Kristoff, ultimately giving the decision to the Katusha man by mere millimetres.
The outcome means that Kristoff won their week-long sprint duel 3-1, but Cavendish had another Norwegian on his mind after descending from the podium – his Dimension Data teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen, who seemed destined for overall victory until he suffered an untimely double puncture in the finale of stage 4.
“We’re just happy to have the gold jersey, but of course the gold jersey should be on the shoulders of Edvald if he didn’t have the shit luck yesterday. He should really have had it, so I feel bad for him,” Cavendish said.
“But we’re happy that Dimension Data’s got it anyway: we put ourselves in the front positions and controlled the race. We’re super happy with how we’ve done and we’ve shown we deserve to step up to WorldTour.”
Cavendish finished atop the general classification by 5 seconds from Kristoff, with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) third at eight seconds. His previous overall win in Qatar came on his last appearance at the race in 2013, when he rattled off four emphatic stage victories at the head of a dominant QuickStep outfit.
The stiller conditions that year made for a slightly more controlled Tour of Qatar than usual, but this time around, the conditions leant themselves to an attritional five days of racing, yet Cavendish and his Dimension Data team were rarely on the back foot.
“It’s a different win to 2013, obviously then QuickStep was a team that dominated this race for ten years, I think I won four stages. It was more of a sprint fest and done on time bonuses,” Cavendish said. “This time the team rode incredible all week and controlled it. Then after what happened in the time trial obviously, I think this jersey should be on the shoulders of Edvald.”
An encouraging start to the season
Cavendish is perhaps selling himself a little short in that regard. After all, it was his own solid performance in Wednesday’s Lusail time trial, where he put 14 seconds into Kristoff, that ultimately ensured the jersey remained in the team after Boasson Hagen’s ill fortune at Madinat Al Shamal the following day.
The Manxman’s haul of stage wins, too, was just a matter of centimetres away from being trebled. After being edged out by Kristoff in the slightly uphill sprint on stage 2, Cavendish wondered if he had under-geared slightly for the grandstand finale on the Corniche.
“I think with the tailwind finish I should perhaps have geared up. I asked Kristoff what he did for the finish and he actually did gear up for the final with a cross-tail and tailwind,” said Cavendish, who had some ground to make up on Kristoff as the sprint began.
“I had a lot of time in the wind but the guys did their best to keep me out. Obviously I knew Kristoff’s lead-out man would leave him a little gap on the right to go. I followed through and perhaps that cost me because I had to leave it a little later to start to come around Kristoff. But in the end, he’s won three stages, it’s not like he’s going bad. It’s not like I’ve lost to anyone who’s not strong.”
Indeed, with so many miles to go and so many promises to keep in 2016, Cavendish will have derived almost as much satisfaction from the performance as the end result, which he light-heartedly suggested was “irrelevant” in the grander scheme of a campaign that ought to include the Tour de France, Olympic Games and, finally, the World Championships road race back here in Doha.
Speaking after the podium ceremonies had concluded on Friday afternoon, Cavendish stopped short of confirming his participation at the World Track Championships in London early next month, though his revelation that he is unlikely to race on the road again before Tirreno-Adriatico the following week is perhaps an indication of his intentions.
“I haven’t thought about the Track Worlds really, I’ve just been trying to get through this nine-day block with Dubai and here,” Cavendish said.
“So of course I know I’m in contention for selection there, but when you’re racing here in the winds like this, you can’t really have the track in the back of your mind, you have to go full gas. But I’m happy with what I’ve got out of these races in Dubai and Qatar, and obviously made up to have the win more than anything."