By Susan Westemeyer
Steels vs. Brown
The finish of stage 2 of the Tour of Qatar was a horrifying picture; Graeme Brown swerved in the sprint finish, taking out Predictor-Lotto's Tom Steels who sprawled full-length on the Doha street in the middle of the whole onrushing peloton. Miraculously all riders were all able to avoid him, but the damage was already done. He was able to get back on his bike and ride to the team bus, with unbelievable quantities of blood streaming down his face.
The Belgian emerged later from the Doha hospital to report a broken collarbone, six stitches in his head and any amount of skin scraped off. At that time, he didn't blame Brown for what happened. "That's the way it is in the sprint, these things happen," he was quoted as saying.
But by the time he got back to the team hotel, things had changed. All of the teams are staying at the same hotel and eating together in the same restaurant. According to Robert Förster of Gerolsteiner, Steels went up to Brown, showed him his broken collarbone and spoke his mind, calling the Australian, among other things "a Kamikaze." According to Sportwereld.be, Steels yelled at him, "You f**king idiot! It's always the same with you!"
"Brown didn't react," Förster wrote on his website, robert-foerster.de. "Steels was shouting as loud as he could, 'Go home!' At the same time another rider stood up, clapped and yelled, too, 'Go home!' Then the room went crazy, everybody stood up and yelled 'Go home!'"
Steels, at least, will be heading home early, to have the broken collarbone operated on. His mechanic reported that the head wound had been caused by the helmet, which broke into eight pieces.
"This is enormously frustrating," Steels summarized. He hopes to be back in the saddle training in five days.
Förster: A "nervous" day
"I actually didn't want to make any comment about the first day of racing today, but the way things turned out, I had to write something," the Gerolsteiner sprinter noted on robert-foerster.de. "The day was pretty nervous from the beginning."
And that nervous beginning included the ride to the race start. The traffic in the opposite direction had come to a stop because of police blockades, and the riders watched as a truck smashed into the waiting cars without braking. "It wasn't a good thing to see," Förster said.
The wind wasn't as bad as expected, but the day was full of crashes and mechanicals. His "locomotive" Sven Krauss, had a flat tire 20 km before the finish, and was unable to get back up to the leading group.
"The last five kilometres were pretty hard. A crash on the left, something on the right, everybody's screaming." On his own, Förster managed a 10th placed finish. On his way in, he saw Steels go down. "Not something you like to see, when someone going 60 km an hour slides across the street in front of you."
Krauss: The fateful flat tire
Sven Krauss got caught behind a crash early in the race and had to fight his way back to the peloton, and felt well enough to stay in the front part of the peloton in order to avoid crashes. But in the end a flat front tire with 20 km to go did not allow him to do his job. He was back on the bike quickly, but in that time, the leading group had picked up its speed. He had to work his way through the team autos to join a 20-man group which came in eight minutes down.
The "biggest surprise" was still to come, though. According to sven-krauss.de, at dinner he received the news that the jury had ruled he had spent too much time riding behind the cars and had let himself be helped too much. The result was a 10 seconds penalty and an 80 Swiss franc fine.
Two of the three Austrians in the race shared in the day's bad luck, according to sportpress.at. Only Gerolsteiner's Paco Wrolich stayed lucky, although he called the day "brutal". Astana's Rene Haselbacher hopes to be in on the sprint finish were dashed by a flat tire two kilometres before the finish, while T-Mobile's sprinter, Bernhard Eisel, also punctured three kilometres before the finish line.
There was bad luck for two of Eisel's T-Mobile teammates, non-Austrians, who hit the ground during the race. Lead-out man Eric Baumann went down in the middle of the stage and Kim Kirchen lost a lot of skin in a crash at the finish.