Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep) was a relieved man at the end of a nail-biting finale at the Tour of Qatar after he successfully defended his race lead and sealed the overall for the second year running.
Terpstra came into the final stage with a six-second lead over Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo) but Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) lay just a further five seconds down after winning his third stage of the race on Thursday.
It meant that if the Norwegian picked up a single point at the intermediate sprints and then won the stage – and Terpstra failed to respond in the sprints – the leader’s jersey would pass onto his shoulders.
And the Katusha plan was in full throttle and on course when Kirstoff picked up two seconds at the first sprint on the streets of downtown Doha. Ettix had won the sprint courtesy of Tom Boonen but they were forced to change tactics on the looped finishing circuit and the race shifted in their favour when Iljo Keisse jumped clear with Gijs Van Hoecke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise). They picked up the first time bonuses at the second sprint and by then Katusha, who had been on the front for most of the stage, was beginning to falter.
The Russian team’s lead-out had been almost faultless all week, this but under sustained pressure on the last lap they were swamped by a number of rival teams and on a crucial corner their efforts were derailed as Kristoff was cut off from the majority of his teammates. At the finish the Norwegian rider and his team debated the flaws in their approach but it was Terpstra who was all smiles as he picked up his second Tour of Qatar title in as many years.
“The team did a great job to defend it. I was a bit nervous before the start because if Kristoff had a really good day then he could pass me but he didn’t do that, so I’ve won,” he said.
“The guys really made Katusha tired and in the end he wasn’t able to win the sprint and take the full 10 seconds.”
When asked how confident he was of holding off the challenge from Kristoff, the Etixx rider admitted that he and his teammates were forced to pay attention through the stage, especially after a scare on stage 5 almost cost the Dutchman the lead when the peloton split.
“You can never be really confident coming into the final because there was still crosswind and if the front group splits up then you lose some seconds and you’re not in the lead anymore. So I was focused until the line.”