As Fabian Cancellara ripped the front group apart with five kilometres to go in today's fourth Tour of Qatar stage, a BMC rider moved slickly onto his wheel with the instinct and power of an old hand.
But it wasn't Thor Hushovd. Or Philippe Gilbert. Amid Classics royalty - Boonen, Flecha and Cancellara - 22 year old British sprinter Adam Blythe was making his bid for the Qatar crown.
"I sort of knew he'd go," Blythe told Cycling Weekly
afterwards. "We were riding into the headwind, he was sat back relaxing... I tried to stay close to him, get as much shelter as possible. I was struggling to hold his wheel, to be honest."
Backwards with a bang
Then, bang. A puncture just over three kilometres from the finish, and Blythe went backwards as if an invisible fish-hook had suddenly snagged him.
Predictably, Blythe's thoughts at the moment of flatting are unprintable. "'It's one of those things in racing that you never really think about till it
happens," he says.
It was a cruel twist of fate for Blythe and another sub-plot in an engrossing day's racing. Had the blowout happened - or been indicated - 200 hundred metres later, the three-kilometre rule would have been invoked.
Blythe would have been on the same time as the leaders and likely be sat in second place overall tonight.
"I was unlucky - I put my hand up with 3.2 kilometres to go," Blythe said. "I knew the rules, but in that moment, you don't think 'where's that 3k flag?' So I put my hand up, got it changed and rode as hard as I could."
What's more, he missed the opportunity to challenge occasional Monaco training partner Tom Boonen in the sprint. "I think I would have been up there," he reflected. Instead, Blythe finished thirteenth, 42 seconds down on Boonen.
Performing well at the Tour of Qatar is no enigma for Blythe. "I don't have a big engine, I just like this race," he said. "It's sort of like a junior one - with a lot better guys. You've got to make sure you're at the front."
Tenth overall and best-placed Briton, Blythe is hungry to come out of Qatar with a result. "I think tomorrow's going to be a decisive day: it's the longest of the race. If it's windy, I'll try and hang in there.
"Tom [Boonen] will be in there - I don't think he's missed a bunch split in ten years here - so I'll stay around him. Then it's a case of doing the sprint and getting it right," he said.
Eye on the Classics
Nevertheless, his eye-catching performance on the wheel of Cancellara was a tantalising taster of Blythe's raw talent.
Third-year professional Blythe is enjoying the pressure-free atmosphere at BMC. The Yorkshireman has pinpointed Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Ghent-Wevelgem as targets this spring.
Blythe may have been denied in the desert, but hopefully his instinct and awareness will be rewarded with a healthy slice of good luck when it matters most in
the Classics arena.
Related linksBoonen wins in Qatar as winds split raceTour of Qatar 2012: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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