Lithuanian steps up after Davis misses the break
Lithuanian sprinter Aidis Kruopis has claimed GreenEdge's first podium away from the team's Australian base, with his third placing on Stage 3 of the Tour of Qatar.
Kruopis capitalised on the hard work of teammates Svein Tuft, who did his fair share of turns on the front as the peloton neared the finish line at Al Gharafa Stadium, and Baden Cooke who also finished in the front group with Kruopis. Cooke then delivered Kruopis to fifth wheel within the final two kilometres.
The 25-year-old was glued to the wheel of eventual runner-up and general classification leader Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) with stage winner Mark Cavendish (Sky) on the Belgian's right-hand shoulder. Boonen appeared to run out of steam just before the line with Cavendish rolling over the finish line with just over a bike length in advantage.
The plan at the start of the day had been for Allan Davis to be GreenEdge's protected rider however he missed the break.
"This podium is important for the team," said GreenEdge Sports Director Laurenzo Lapage. "I didn't want to put too much stress on Aidis. This is his first WorldTour team. Our plan was to go for Allan [Davis]. Because of some mistakes, Allan missed the break. Aidis stepped up in the sprint. This must give him confidence for the future."
Kruopis is now the best-placed rider from GreenEdge on GC in 14th, 21seconds down on Boonen. Late last year while in Australia for GreenEdge's inaugural team camp, Kruopis told Cyclingnews that the desert race had long been on his to-do list.
"I've wanted to go there for a long time so it's a dream come true," he told Cyclingnews knowing that Qatar would mark the start of his 2012 season.
Lapage continued his praise of Kruopis, who raced with ProConti outfit Landbouwkrediet in 2011 and showed no signs of being overawed by the experience of his competition in Qatar.
"When Aidis lost Baden, he had to fight against the trains and find his own way to the line," noted Lapage. "If he hadn't lost Baden, maybe his result would be even better. Aidis is young. He has shown his potential today. His teammates now realise he can have his place with the strong sprinters."
The result for Kruopis is GreenEdge's second WorldTour podium, after Simon Gerrans finished a close second to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the queen stage of the Tour Down Under last month. Gerrans claimed the overall victory at the Australian event however it was marked by some criticism given the lack of stage results for the fledgling team despite GreenEdge being open about their chances for sprint victories.
Cooke was GreenEdge's best-placed rider at Qatar's opening stage on Sunday in 18th, finishing in the front group while in Monday's team time trial, the outfit was 16 seconds behind the winning time of Garmin-Barracuda.
"Everything is going how we had hoped," Lapage explained. "It's the first race of the season for most of the guys here. We have tried to make our mark in the sprints. Day by day, we will get better and better. The team has shown they are learning quickly how to race together, and this is the most important thing."