With An Post-Sean Kelly three years ago, the young Scot was part of a team simply glad of the chance to rub shoulders with some of the aristocrats of the peloton and ship a few hard lessons in the process. This time around, Fenn was an integral member of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, the very team dealing out cycling's facts of life by drilling on the front and splitting the bunch virtually every time that the conditions allowed. This has been, Fenn conceded to Cyclingnews, a rather different desert experience.
"We were lucky to get an invitation that year, it was really because Pegasus folded and so we got in," Fenn told Cyclingnews. "It was good experience though and I knew what to expect a bit this year."
His fellow An Post alumnus Sam Bennett - who also returned to Qatar this week, with NetApp-Endura - joked that three years ago, he was often glad simply to make it to kilometre zero without being dropped. Fenn acknowledged that the black jersey of Omega Pharma-QuickStep meant that he was given a little more respect in the bunch, even if, ultimately, that still had to be earned by performances on the road.
"Obviously, there's always a bit of respect to the team, and we've had the gold jersey on top of that," Fenn said. "You've got to ride as a team in these kinds of races anyway, and when people see a couple of jerseys coming up, they know there'll be more following through and maybe make space. But then there comes a point where that stuff goes out the window, because it
The opening two road stages saw Omega Pharma-Quick Step wreak havoc on the peloton, and their showing on day two, when all eight of their riders made the winning split, was a graphic illustration of their superiority. Later in the week, the men in black played more a restrained role, but it was dictate of the conditions rather than a charm offensive.
"The last couple of days we haven't tried to split it really, we've tried to make some space on the road and not put everyone in the gutter," Fenn said. "But it was just the way the race went. There was a headwind in the final part on Thursday, so there was no point in spending too much energy when it was all going to come back together anyway. The first few days were the days where you could really do some damage, and once we had the jersey we could be a bit more defensive."
Indeed, not only did Niki Terpstra claim overall victory, but Tom Boonen won the points competition, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck was best young rider and Omega Pharma-QuickStep picked up the team classification. For his part, Fenn provided vital lead-outs for Boonen's two stage victories and finished the race as one of five QuickStep riders in the top ten overall.
Fenn hopes that such a strong showing will help his chances of being elevated to QuickStep's "A-team" for the cobbled classics this season, even if he acknowledged that making the roster for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix is an achievement in itself. As well as the eight men who dictated affairs in Qatar, there are also riders of the calibre of world cyclo-cross champion Zdenek Stybar and Michal Kwiatkowski to consider.
"There are a lot of guys to pick from but there are a lot of races as well so we can switch the team around a little bit," Fenn said. "For the big two, it's always a last minute decision, but I'm just trying to be in the mix, learn from the guys and do the job that's asked of me."
"I don't think I could pull all day like Iljo [Keisse] and Stijn [Vandenbergh], but you have to bring something unique. You need to build a team rather than bring a lot of guys who could get a result."
Such is the fierce competitions for places, there is perhaps the danger that riders will peak too soon in a bit to ensure a dossard for Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, although Fenn maintains that Patrick Lefevere and Wilfried Peeters will ultimately choose the men on form come April 6.
"If there are two guys who can a similar job but one guy is better, then he'll get the job," he said. "We know it's going to be for Tom in those races and they build up the team around him."
At this point in the season on a team like Omega Pharma-Quick Step, it is difficult to contemplate anything beyond the gates of the Roubaix velodrome, and Fenn admitted that his calendar from April onwards is all to be decided.
The only certainty, it seems, is that Fenn will line up at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. "For the team it's not a priority, but riding for Scotland in Scotland means that I've made that a bit of a goal," Fenn said. "But I have no control over what racing I'll do before that really. Still, I'll go there and see what I'll do."
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