Tom Boonen made it two out of two with a second sprint victory at the Al Khalifa stadium in stage three of the Tour of Qatar.
Boonen, fourth in line as the race entered the final 200 metres, calmly followed rival sprinter Alessandro Petacchi?s jump before accelerating around his Italian rival to cross the line well clear. Petacchi was a frustrated second, with Bernhard Eisel of T-Mobile in third.
Ireland?s Paul Healion, riding for the Sean Kelly-supported Gunn team, was the hero of the day, breaking away early and building a four minute lead over pursuers Eric Baumann (T-Mobile) and Romain Feillu (Agritubel), with the peloton a further three minutes back. With 40 kilometres to go, Quick Step and Milram, aided by Rabobank, started to chase.
While a tiring Healion was reeled in by Baumann and Feillu, the peloton continued to make inroads, finally catching the escapees with five kilometres to go. Boonen found himself well back, but with the help of his Quick Step team mates, forced his way to the front with just a kilometre to go.
?We knew the group would get caught, because there was a strong wind,? said Boonen. ?I was in 50th position with three kilometres to go, and it took everyone in the team to get me to the front.?
Boonen now leads Petacchi three-nil, with Quick Step also having won the day one team time trial in Doha.
?Me and Petacchi are the two best sprinters in the world, but we?ve only raced against each other five or six times in real sprints. We are the same strength, but today I was luckier,? said Boonen.
Stage Three: Dohat Salwa - Khalifa Stadium.
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 3-25-06
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram 0:00
3 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) T-Mobile 0:00
4 Aurelien Clerc (Swi) Bouygues Telecom 0:00
5 Stefano Zanini (Ita) Predictor-Lotto 0:00
6 Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank 0:00
7 Rene Haselbacher (Aut) Astana 0:00
8 Greg Henderson (NZl) T-Mobile 0:00
9 Linas Balciunas (Lit) Agritubel 0:00
10 Robert Forster (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0:00
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 6-33-09
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Milram 0:13
3 Steven De Jongh (Hol) Quick Step 0:17
4 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Quick Step 0:21
5 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Liquigas 0:24
6 Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra) Ag2r Prevoyance 0:25
7 Marco Velo (Ita) Milram 0:25
8 Wilfried Cretskens (Bel) Quick Step 0:25
9 Murilo Fischer (Bra) Saunier Duval 0:27
10 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) T-Mobile 0:27
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Edward Pickering is a writer and journalist, editor of Pro Cycling and previous deputy editor of Cycle Sport. As well as contributing to Cycling Weekly, he has also written for the likes of the New York Times. His book, The Race Against Time, saw him shortlisted for Best New Writer at the British Sports Book Awards. A self-confessed 'fair weather cyclist', Pickering also enjoys running.
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