The Welshman finishes in select group of 13 including Boonen, Sagan and Terpstra.

Luke Rowe described today’s Tour of Qatar second stage, in which was part of a select front group of 13, as “one of the hardest days” of his career.

The Welshman has impressed so far this season; he finished fourth in the Cadel Evans Road Race in Australia on February 1, and has dealt with the famed Qatar winds brilliantly in both stages to date in this year’s race.

“The whole day was crazy,” he said of today’s leg between Al Wakra and Al Khor Corniche, in which the leaders averaged 48.945km/h.

“In the first hour I made the first echelon, I was riding in the first 12 riders, and I was in the 53×11 – I wish I had a 55, for sure some guys did.

“It came back after about 100km, then it went again straight away. It was relentless, one of the hardest days I’ve ever had on a bike.”

Sky team principal Dave Brailsford has praised Rowe’s progress over the winter, which the 24-year-old attributed to his new found belief.

Rowe added: “Halfway through last season, I really knuckled down. The build-up to the Vuelta, the race itself and the Worlds went well, so I ended the season on a high.

“I think a big part of it is confidence. Until you do it, you don’t believe you can do it. I had a real good winter, I spent a lot of time away from home getting the miles in. I did team camps as well as trips off my own back. I feel well prepared for this year.

“People underestimate how hard Qatar is, it’s one of the hardest races of the year. You have to be mentally strong to come here and race hard day in, day out.”

Rowe sits 11th overall, 10 seconds behind race leader Alexander Kristoff going into tomorrow’s 10-kilometre time trial at Lusail.