It had been a little while coming, but Edvald Boasson Hagen finally clinched a notable bunch sprint win in stage three of the Tour of Oman for Team Sky, a victory that simultaneously increases his overall lead as the race reaches its half-way point.
Second on Sunday, third yesterday and third in a stage of Qatar - all in bunch sprints - in Tuesday's dash for the line there was no stopping the 22-year-old Norwegian after Sky took an iron grip on the race in the closing kilometres.
"CJ [CJ Sutton] lead me out then I accelerated away a little bit earlier than other times, maybe 200 metres from the line," commented Boasson Hagen, "and once I'd got ahead and got some space I knew I could get the win."
"It's a good feeling because it's been so close now on several occasions, it's great to finally make it and get the victory."
"The early part of the stage was tough but we kept control of everything and then moved to the front just when we should do."
Run off in very warm weather and starting - of all places - on a semi-deserted beach, Oman's third stage, 124 kilometres from Shafat Ash Sheikh to Qurayvat, began on winding roads with some small but viciously steep climbs early on. It then settled into a long flat slog on broad highways that looked very similar to Monday's stage.
A short, steady climb at the end looked far more challenging in the route book than it was in reality, and after a fast descent, the sprint itself came at the end of a completely exposed four kilometre straightaway with just a slight head-wind.
The only break of the day was a four rider move, sparked by a lone attack from Trek-Livestrong's Ben King. Joined by Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil), Gatis Smukulis (Ag2R) and Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun), Sky stayed close to the front of the bunch before Katusha, Liquigas and Garmin all began to close things down, and the four were caught on the last climb.
"BMC wanted to split things at the start, but it eased up and most of the time we were cruising, we only had to use Lars [Peter Nordhaug] and Ian [Stannard] for the actual pulling during most of the day," Sky's Geraint Thomas told Cycling Weekly.
"Then me and Matt [Hayman] kept things under control on the descent before Davide [Vigano] and CJ [Sutton], who are both good sprinters in their own right, set him up nicely."
"Once he got a bit of clean air we knew he'd do it, specially with a headwind."
Following Sky's fourth win of the 2010 season, Boasson Hagen now has an advantage of 10 seconds on closest rival Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), as well as 20 seconds on the bulk of the pack, increasing his chances of staying in control all the way through to Friday's 18 kilometre time trial.
Given Thursday's stage is flat, the biggest challenge Boasson Hagen will have to face prior to that is tomorrow's 187km hilly stage - and the fun starts even before racing gets underway, with an exceptionally early start for an hour's flight by military transport to the start in the remote town of Ibri.
The stage itself winds through the foothills of the Jabal Akhdar mountains behind the capital, Muscat. The summit of the first climb, Shenhese, is reached after 66 (!) kilometres of gently rising roads, after which the race heads through rolling terrain to the finish in Nakhal.
"We'll have to do our best to protect him," Thomas added, "if he gets through in the lead it'll be hard to pull back his advantage in the final time trial."
Tour of Oman 2010: Stage three
1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky
2. Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Katusha
3. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin
4. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
5. Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Saxo Bank
6. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
7. Peter Wrolich (Aut) Milram
8. Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil
9. Klaas Lodewyck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator
10. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) HTC Columbia
Overall classification after stage three
1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky
2. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin at 0-10
3. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
4. Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Katusha at 0-14
5. Gatis Smukulis (Lat) AG2R La Mondiale at 0-15
6. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil at 0-16
7. Kristof Vandewalle (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen
8. Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale at 0-17
9. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) HTC Columbia 0-20
10. Michael Van Stayen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen
The bunch stretched out in the desert
BMC leading the chase
Blazing sunshine for the peloton in Oman
Tour of Oman stage two: Boasson Hagen moves into lead
Tour of Oman 2010, stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Dowsett in escape group in Oman stage 2
Tour of Oman, stage one report: Boasson Hagen secondTour of Oman 2010, stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour of Oman 2010: Preview and guide
Edvald Boasson Hagen: Rider Profile
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