Mark Cavendish sprints into Tour of Qatar lead
Mark Cavendish wins stage 4, Tour of Qatar 2013
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) won his second consecutive stage of the Tour of Qatar to take the leader's golden jersey from Brent Bookwalter (BMC).
But he said that wouldn't alter his approach on the final two stages, insisting: "It's the exactly the same whether I'm in the jersey or not. I just go trying to win stages, and maybe the GC comes from that. But I can't go defending the jersey, because that's likely to take away from [my efforts] to win stages."
The race does seem, nevertheless, to be shaping up nicely for Cavendish. With only flat, desert roads, it is the wind that usually proves decisive at the Tour of Qatar, but the average speed on Wednesday - just under 46kph - testified to the calm, fast conditions which are also expected for the final two days.
A three-man break, containing Pirmin Lang (IAM), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) and Andriy Grivko (Astana) was away for most of the stage, building a seven-minute lead at one point, but it was one that was always going to end in a bunch sprint.
Cavendish's OPQS team were prominent at the front, but so were other teams towards the end, including Team Sky, Argos-Shimano, Astana and Vacansoleil, whose confidence in their young Dutch sprinter, Barry Markus, was high following his second place behind Cavendish the previous day.
A pile-up in the final kilometre claimed 15 riders, with Koen de Koert (Argos) taken to hospital with a suspected broken collarbone. As on the previous day, Cavendish was initially nowhere to be seen, but he emerged from the mass of bodies to take an easy win, with Markus once again second and Andrea Guardini (Astana) third.
Cavendish admitted he almost lost his teammates in the closing stages. "I always had the guys with me," he said. "I had Guillaume Van Keirsbulck) looking after me until about 5k to go, then I had [Zdenek] Stybar took me and Matteo [Trentin] look after me in the final kms.
"Matteo did a perfect job keeping me up there until the roundabout, but coming into the roundabout he went round the outside of a guy who was coming back, then he was looking for a team jersey, but I was in the silver jersey [of points leader]," Cavendish continued.
"So I lost Matteo, and thought I was going to have to freestyle the last few hundred metres, but Niki Terpstra came round with 1200 to go and moved me up about 15 positions."
The finish at Al Khor Corniche was the same as last year, which Cavendish also won. "I knew from experience that the wind comes from the right, so you want to be on the left. The road sweeps right, so the peloton naturally moves to the right, but I knew the gap would open on the left. So I did exactly same as last year and just sat until 300, 200 to go." Then the gap opened, "and I was able to win."
Cavendish now leads overall from Bookwalter with his BMC teammates Taylor Phinney and Adam Blythe third and fourth, all within nine seconds of the race leader.
Tour of Qatar 2013, stage four: Camel Race Track to Al Khor Corniche, 160km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 3-30-05
2. Barry Markus (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM
3. Andrea Guardini (Ita) Astana
4. Filippo Fortin (Ita) Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox
5. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Astana
6. Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Saxo-Tinkoff
7. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ
8. Aidis Kruopis (Ltu) Orica-GreenEdge
9. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky
10. Davide Appollonio (Ita) Ag2r all same time
Overall classification after stage four
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 10-20-01
2. Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing at 2 secs
3. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing at 8 secs
4. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at 9 secs
5. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 12 secs
6. Michael Schar (Swi) BMC Racing at 12 secs
7. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky at 13 secs
8. Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky at 14 secs
9. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky at 16 secs
10. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 17 secs
Luke Rowe gets a wheel change
Taylor Phinney and Brent Bookwalter
Mark Cavendish takes his second consecutive stage win in the race
Mark Cavendish in the race lead
Tour of Qatar 2013: Preview and coverage