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Tom Boonen sprints to victory in stage 4 in Qatar
German pleased with quality of lead-out
Sprinters, at least according to lore, can automatically sense whether or not they've won a tight finish, but André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) adhered to reason rather than instinct at the end of stage 4 of the Tour of Qatar.
The German crossed the finish line shoulder to shoulder with Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in Mesaieed, and while the latter's exultant shout seemed to suggest that he had just edged the win, Greipel preferred to await the verdict of the race jury before reacting.
After wheeling to halt, Greipel's first action was to peel off his shoes and socks, and then pour water over his feet, weary from a frenetic afternoon of racing that saw the bunch career through the desert at an average speed of some 56.8kph. He then sat pensively outside the Lotto-Belisol team car and waited for the white smoke from the commissaires, while around him, his teammates swapped war stories about the day's wicked pace.
Five minutes later, Lotto directeur sportif Bart Leysen arrived on the scene and delivered the news from the photo finish conclave with a rueful shake of the head: Boonen had beaten Greipel by the width of a rim.
"Sorry guys," Greipel said quietly to his teammates as he began to change out of his kit, safe in the knowledge that his presence would not be required on the podium. "Ah, you fucking idiot!" Marcel Sieberg shouted with mock anger, glad to break the tension and keen to lift his sprinter's spirits.
A small group of reporters had by now gathered at the Lotto car, and drew closer for Greipel's take on proceedings. "You should go and talk to QuickStep - they won," he said. True, but while the winners write history, they don't always make for reliable narrators. "You saw the sprint," Greipel protested, before offering his succinct account of the day's action.
"We made the lead out and I had to go because, yeah, I thought it was the right moment to surprise people," he said of his decision to come off lead-out man Jürgen Roelandt's wheel and open the sprint.
Boonen immediately dived onto Greipel's wheel and then nipped around him inside the final 100 metres, but the German did not feel that he had opened his effort too early or made any particular mistake in the finale.
"Yeah, it was like normal," Greipel said. "There was a bit of a slight head-crosswind. Ok, Tom is fast, but I think I did a good sprint."
There was a sense that the searing pace on the stage had suited Boonen more than it had Greipel. The QuickStep man may not quite have the same finishing kick as his early years in the peloton, but few can put up the same numbers as Boonen in a sprint at the end of a hard day's racing.
"It was not easy but he proved it already in the past that after a hard race, he's one of the strongest. But still I made a good sprint and the team supported me really well in the lead-out," Greipel said. "It was hard for everyone but I made a good sprint, I think. Ok, Tom won but that's racing."
Boonen told reporters that he had worked specifically on his explosiveness during the winter months, but Greipel politely cut short an inquiry into his thoughts on the stage winner's preparation. For a sprinter, the end product is what counts. "I don't know what he's training, but he's fast," Greipel said.