Beaten by the flap of a leader’s jersey. Not all defeats are created equal, and by the time Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) reached the podium area at the end of stage 2 of the Tour of Qatar, he could even smile about it.
Cavendish was edged out by mere millimetres at the end of a keenly-contested sprint duel with Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) at Qatar University, though he retains the overall lead by way of compensation.
After descending from the podium with his day’s spoils, Cavendish joked that wearing the gold jersey had been a literal burden as well as a figurative one. So tight was the margin of defeat that donning a skinsuit as he had done en route to winning stage 1 might almost have been enough to edge the decision.
“It’s actually ironic that the difference in centimetres is [the same as the difference] between wearing a leader’s jersey and a skinsuit – but I was happy to wear the leader’s jersey,” Cavendish said.
Cavendish and Kristoff managed to avoid the crash – caused, it seems, by a traffic island – that marred the finale, and faced off into a stiff cross-headwind on the slightly rising finishing straight. Try as he might, Cavendish could not quite come around the Norwegian.
“It was neck and neck to the line, I actually thought he’d die but he didn’t. He just got it in the end, he’s strong,” Cavendish said. “I’m not majorly disappointed. I lost to Alexander Kristoff and it’s a good finish for him, slightly uphill. I was on the right in the crosshead, and I knew the outside would be difficult but shit happens.”
Cavendish remains five seconds clear of Kristoff in the general classification with Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) a further 9 seconds back, while his teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen is 18 seconds down ahead of Wednesday’s 11.4-kilometre time trial at Lusail.
“I don’t think there’s many people who can match Edvald in a time trial from that front group we were in yesterday, so hopefully we can keep the jersey in the team,” Cavendish said.
Tuesday also doubled as a test event for October’s World Championships road race in Doha, as it incorporated four laps of the 15.4km finishing circuit on the artificial island of the Pearl, though the final 7 kilometres of the stage are not part of the Worlds course.
“It was windier than I thought it was going to be actually, there wasn’t so much shelter from the buildings and the wind was coming always from a different direction when we moved around,” Cavendish said. “I don’t think the final circuit will create any splits but it’s definitely going to be uncomfortable no matter where you are in the group. It’s going to be tiring after that distance, you know, you can’t sit in and chill for the final.”
When Qatar was first confirmed as the Worlds host, there was some expectation that the circuit might eschew the built-up areas of Doha in order to leave the race as exposed as possible to the wind that characterises the area. Cavendish, however, felt that such a move would likely have been counterproductive, pointing out that the lengthy duration of a Worlds road race and a short stage of the Tour of Qatar are not comparable.
“At the end of the day if you went on the big open roads and created echelons from the beginning, it’s too far to go for a 260-kilometre race. So I actually think in terms of having a World Championships here in Qatar it’s quite a sensible idea,” Cavendish said.
“It actually makes for quite a good World Championships. The people who write on your internet forums are going to want echelons and that but we’re not fucking robots, we’re not going to do that for 260k, no matter who’s there. So it’s quite a nice circuit. I think you’ll be surprised by how exciting it’ll be as a World Championship.”
Speaking to Cyclingnews at the finish of Tuesday’s stage, Manuel Quinziato (BMC) had been of the opinion that the twisting nature of the Doha course would make it very difficult to form a functioning sprint train on the final lap.
“I think it might be a bit easier [to form a lead-out] because the roads aren’t as wide as they were in Copenhagen [where Cavendish won the Worlds in 2011 – ed.] in the final,” Cavendish said. “If anyone’s got a big lead-out there in the final, they’ve got the strongest nation in the world. It’s going to use a few people up to look after guys for the final anyway.
“You’ve got in your head that it’s going to be a bowl around and sprint finish, but it’s not. It may look like that on TV, but cycling’s fucking hard, man.”
Asked to describe the kind of rider who ought to triumph on October 16, Cavendish said: “I think it’s going to be someone who can sprint, but who is quite resilient over that distance.
“No matter where you sit in the peloton, it’s going to be gnarly. I think it’s going to be all about endurance and making sure you’re in the best possible condition for the World Championships. There’s going to be no real hiding in that race.”