Boonen in charge in Qatar
Omega rider closes in on fourth Qatar title
Last Updated: 08/02/12 1:50pm
Boonen: Extended his lead in the overall standings at the Tour of Qatar
Tom Boonen closed in on a fourth Tour of Qatar title after a dominant display by his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team on stage four.
The 147.5 kilometres route from Al Thakhira to Madinat Al Shamal was dominated by the race leader's squad and he took full advantage by seeing off Tom Veelers (Project 1t4i) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) in a final sprint which featured just six riders.
In an action replay of what had happened on stage three, the peloton was splintered by crosswinds with just over 30km remaining but this time it was Omega Pharma-Quick Step who put the hammer down as around 20 riders made it into the front group.
Once again three Team Sky riders forced their way into the selection, with Bernhard Eisel, Juan Antonio Flecha and Ian Stannard the men in question. However stage three winner Mark Cavendish ended up in the second group.
Heading into the final 10km the front group had dwindled to 16 riders but they'd seen off the chasing pack and held an advantage of just under a minute.
Their numbers continued to be whittled down - with Adam Blythe (BMC Racing) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) among the more unlucky riders as they both suffered punctures - which meant that coming into the closing stages it was Boonen who was sitting pretty as he had team-mates Gert Steegmans and Nikolas Maes in what was now a six-man selection.
Cancellara unleashed his sprint first as he powered down the right of the road with Veelers on his wheel but Boonen had them both covered and surged clear to extend his astonishing record in the Tour of Qatar.
It was his second stage victory of this year's race and he now leads by 31 seconds from Farrar as he took a step closer to his fourth overall triumph in the event.
"I was lucky, I had a very good day," said Boonen afterwards at the finish line. "It was a very hard stage and after the first couple of hours I told the guys I was feeling very strong and that it was a great opportunity to try and take a firm grip on the jersey.
"We had around 5km of crosswinds and we worked really hard as it split up and then gave it all we had on the headwinds to stay in front. It was an excellent team performance on a perfect stage for us.
"I think today I've taken a very important step to winning the Tour of Qatar."
Flecha's fourth position moved him up to third overall, three seconds behind Farrar, while Eisel and Stannard both notched top 10s on the day, crossing the line in eighth and 10th respectively.
Eisel is fifth on the GC, 45 seconds behind Boonen, going into Thursday's penultimate stage which covers 160km to Al Khor Corniche.