Mark Renshaw (HTC-Highroad) has built up a deserved reputation as one the peloton's finest exponents of the complex art of the lead-out but the Australian proved that he is equally adept at finishing the job himself with a thundering sprint win on stage 4 of the Tour of Qatar.
After the stage, the new gold jersey Renshaw admitted that he has to bide his time for opportunities to chase wins for himself given the depth of sprinting talent at his team. However, with the Australian clearly in better condition than Mark Cavendish at this early stage in the season, he has been handed the conductor's baton on the past two stages.
"I don't get the opportunity very often," Renshaw said afterward. "At the start of this week when I was still second on GC the plan was to try and get a result for Cav. Luckily he's not on the best form so that gave me an opportunity."
Cavendish slipped out of the leading group in the closing stages for the second consecutive day, but Renshaw explained that there was no room for jealousy inside the HTC-Highroad camp.
"He's more than happy for me to get my results," Renshaw said. "I work so hard for him all year, so I'm sure he's happy."
On the frenetic run-in the finishing sprint, Renshaw was able to count on Bernhard Eisel's support before taking full advantage of the Leopard Trek lead-out train.
"The final kilometre was very fast but I had the perfect wheel in Bennati," Renshaw said. "He had two teammates that led him out so it was really fast.
"I looked behind and I saw Boonen jump and I knew that was the moment I had to start my sprint. I'm really happy that I had the power to hold off Tom Boonen."
Renshaw put himself in a strong position to challenge for overall honours with a solid prologue performance on Sunday and he has grown in confidence as the week has progressed. After finishing second on stage 3, he was delighted to take both the stage and the overall lead on Thursday.
"It's an objective I've been working to all week," he said. "I had a good prologue and from there I had a string of good results, so it's great to finally come through with a stage and the jersey after the work that the team and I have put in.
I've put in a lot of work this off-season, I've been very dedicated, so it's been great to see all the work has paid off."
Renshaw now leads his fellow countryman Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) by six seconds in the overall standings, while Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) just about remains in contention with a 15-second deficit. Renshaw anticipates an anxious finale on Doha's Al Corniche.
"It's going to be a really nervous day," he said. "I think there's 16 seconds available in bonuses so it's going to be a really tactical race with Haussler and Bennati. There's basically three very strong teams so it's a matter of watching those guys and trying to do our best."
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