Tour of Qatar 2012 stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson>>
Tom Boonen extended his overall lead at the Tour of Qatar by winning stage four of the race in Madinat Al Shamal this afternoon.
Boonen outsprinted Tom Veelers (1T4i) and Fabian Cancellara after Mark Cavendish missed out on the chance of replicating his 2009 stage victory in the municipality.
Strong winds split the race up dramatically, with the first split coming with 30km remaining. By the finish, only five riders were in the front group; three of them were from Boonen's Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad.
"After an hour, I told the guys I was feeling very strong today. I said that today was the perfect day to really take the jersey," Boonen told journalists at the finish. "We gave it all we had in the headwinds, trying to stay in front."
Adam Blythe (BMC) and Sky's Ian Stannard were the only Britons to initially made the break, but both were ruled out of contention in the closing stages.
Blythe's badly-timed puncture
Blythe can feel particiularly hard done by. As Classics star Cancellara dismantled the lead group with a vicious acceleration in the last five kilometres, the Briton jumped onto his wheel.
But a puncture two minutes later robbed him of a shot at victory, seeing him fall back through the groups. Blythe is nevertheless the best placed Briton, in tenth place.
Sky's Michael Barry crashed during the stage and was later diagnosed with a broken elbow, his race is now over.
Boonen now leads Tyler Farrar by 31 seconds, with Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha a further three back.
"I was lucky, I had a very good day on a perfect stage for us," Boonen said. "I've taken a very important step [towards winning the Tour of Qatar]."
Tour of Qatar 2012, stage four: Al Thakhira to Madinat Al Shamal, 144km
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
2. Tom Veelers (Ned) Project 1T4i
3. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan
4. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Sky at same time
5. Gert Steegmans (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 4secs
6. Nikolas Maes (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 11secs
7. Yoann Offredo (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 14secs
8. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky
9. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Barracuda
10. Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky at 36secs
13. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing Team at 42secs
31. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Sky at 54secs
70. Matt Brammeier (Irl) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 1-45
87. David McCann (Irl) RTS Racing Team
91. Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Team Sky
101. Lee Rodgers (GBr) RTS Racing Team at 6-35
111. Alex Coutts (GBr) RTS Racing Team at 6-38
Overall classification after stage four
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
2. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Barracuda at 31 secs
3. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Sky at 34 secs
4. Gert Steegmans (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 36 secs
5. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Sky at 45 secs
6. Tom Veelers (Ned) Project 1T4i at 50 secs
7. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan at 1-06
8. Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Garmin-Barracuda at 1-09
9. Aidis Kruopis (Ltu) GreenEdge at 1-10
10. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at 1-14
Another day of sun, sand and crosswinds
Tom Boonen in the escape group
Tom Boonen takes his second 2012 stage win
Tom Boonen on the podium to collect the leader's jersey from Eddy Merckx
Tour of Qatar stage four photo gallery
Tour of Qatar 2012: Coverage index
Mark Cavendish takes first win in rainbow jersey
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