By Owen Rogers
Just 24 hours after the euphoria of his time trial win, Edvald Boasson Hagen’s hopes of winning the Tour of Qatar general classification are more than likely gone. The Norwegian Dimension Data rider punctured twice on the final of four laps in today’s stage in Madinat Al Shamal.
The day had been relatively routine for the gold jersey wearer, whose team controlled the race when they needed to. The one notable issue early in the race was the number of punctures being suffered by riders of all teams. There were at least 10 in as many kilometres.
The drama began as the peloton approached the finish line for the penultimate time. LottoNL-Jumbo, looking to split the field and set up a stage win, upped the pace, causing the peloton to split in the wind, which had been increasing throughout the afternoon.
At that time, Boasson Hagen was safely in the large front group with his teammates, before disaster struck. Having changed one wheel he remounted but stopped again within just a few metres with a second puncture, taking a team mate’s bike rather than wait for a second wheel.
While Mark Cavendish, then second on general classification, stayed with the front group, the rest of the Dimension Data team dropped back to help their leader. However, by that time the gap was around 40 seconds: too much so late in the day.
“He punctured the front, got going and then immediately punctured the back,” explained team directeur sportif Roger Hammond. “They rode a perfect stage, in control all the time and then a puncture at the worst possible moment.
“They made that instinctive decision,” said Hammond of the team decision to help the Norwegian. “They’re all professional bike riders understand the situation. We had a game plan before the start, so they knew that if Eddy had any trouble they had to [assist].
“Katusha got a lot of help there in the front, but one against two teams when you’ve been riding all day was always going to difficult. They’ve limited their losses, thankfully we had two in the front on GC.”
Despite Cavendish inheriting the race lead, there was clear disappointment as the team gathered at the finish. Boasson Hagen, never overly demonstrative, was clearly unhappy.
“I think I hit something but I don’t know,” he told reporters. “I caught a cat's eye or something, but they both got flat. I’m impressed with the whole team but s**t happens.”
Cavendish now leads Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) by just two seconds, though today’s stage winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) is arguably more of a threat. With two stage wins already and bonus seconds on offer for the win and both intermediate sprints, tomorrow’s final stage is likely to be hard fought.
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