Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) will have to fight with Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) for every second available during the final stage on Friday if he is to depend his overall lead in the Tour of Qatar, after the Norwegian won stage five and moved to within 11 seconds of the overall lead.
Kristoff won his third stage of the race ahead of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff Saxo) and Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) and even dropped the race leader in the closing kilometres of the stage, forcing Terpstra and his Etixx-QuickStep team on the defensive.
Despite regaining contact with the leaders after the echelon attack, Terpstra could only watch from behind as Kristoff won and picked up a ten-second time bonus for his stage win. It means that if the Norwegian wins tomorrow’s final stage, and rallies with a further one second at an intermediate sprint, he will win the overall.
“If he wins again tomorrow and has a bonus then he will take the lead but if he wins again tomorrow he’s probably the best rider here,’ shrugged Terpstra. “I hope that I will make it but we’ll see tomorrow.”
Etixx-QuickStep are likely to ask questions of Katusha tomorrow and go on the offensive if the race is affected by crosswinds but throughout this year's race Kristoff has matched the Belgian team, at times single handedly. That could see Etixx-QuickStep produce a different game plan, either allowing a break to go, or in an more unlikely scenario, putting Terpstra in a position to sprint against Kristoff at the intermediate sprints. The first sprint comes after 73km of racing on the fourth time through the finish on the Doha Cornice. The second is after 90km, on the seventh of ten times through the finish. Time bonuses of three, two and one second are awarded at both sprints. Ten, six and four seconds are awarded to the leading three riders at the finish.
“It all depends how the others are riding,” was all the race leader would provide when asked about tactics. “If Kristoff tries to takes some seconds I will try and be time in the sprints.”
Yet when asked if he would like to see a break go clear, he said: “Yeah of course, that’s pretty simple.”