21 year-old Belgian, Greg Van Avermaet, made his mark early into his professional career by taking out Tour of Qatar stage five against some of the biggest names in the business of bicycle racing. Pitted against the likes of Kim Kirchen and Marcel Sieberg, the Predictor-Lotto rider had his work cut out for him, and, in fact, he held off one of Boonen's henchmen, Wilfried Cretskens, to win the stage.
"Watch out, he can win," said king of cycling, Eddy Merckx to La Gazzetta dello Sport. Had it not been for an accident in football we might not be watching Van Avermaet snatch victory in Doha. At 17 years-old he was already at the doorstep of Belgium's top-level football club, Beveren, when he switched to cycling for rehabilitation.
Cycling was in the family; his father raced in the amateur ranks, while his grandfather, Aimè, raced amongst the best of his generation. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Aimè achieved 10th, behind winner André Darrigade, in the 1956 Giro di Lombardia.
Van Avermaet had the confidence of a winner as the 160 kilometre stage unwound towards Mesaieed. "I did not know any of my escape companions, but I knew what I was capable of doing. From the amateur ranks, in arrivals like this, I often won," he said with pride post stage.
Friday, the peloton will contest the final stage of the 6th Tour of Qatar before flying back home to Europe. Van Avermaet will make the trip with a smile on his face before preparing to go confront the spring season. Certainly, like Merckx wisely noted, cycling fans will have a new name to "watch out" for in the finales.