Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) was not surprised to beat Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) in the sprint at the end of the fourth stage of the 2014 Tour of Qatar, one of the fastest road stages in professional cycling history.
After riding at an average of 57kmph for 135km, Boonen came from the wheel of the German champion with around 100m to go and narrowly pipped him on the line after less than two and a half hours.
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“[It’s] not a surprise. The key was timing,” Boonen said at the end of the stage. “I waited until he [Greipel] was at top speed and I knew I had that 100m punch and that’s what I’ve been working on since I started training again.”
Roared on by a northwesterly tailwind, Boonen’s second stage win in Qatar this year brought his overall tally at the race to 22.
His sprint finish into Mesaieed echoes the Boonen of old, who challenged for bunch sprints and won the green jersey of the Tour de France in 2007.
The Belgian superstar is supremely confident at the head of his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team in Qatar, who with two stages to race have kept Niki Terpstra in the leader’s gold jersey and filled five of the top ten overall.
“It helped that I already won one stage, so I was a little bit more relaxed and didn’t make mistakes,” Boonen added. “It’s also being in very good condition and knowing where you can go [sprint], it gives you the confidence not to make mistakes.”
Boonen’s psychological confidence is matched by his physical condition; his sunken cheeks and lean, tanned limbs hint at a rider approaching his physical peak.
The 33 year-old is confident that even more is to come before his main goals of the season, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“All the work I have done so far is just normal work that I have always done. I think at this point going into Paris Nice there will still be some improvement,” he said.
“It’s better to be in shape at this point than to be looking for condition.”
The hirsute Boonen is also planning one more physical change before the spring classics: having a shave.
“I don’t know, I like it,” he joked about his facial hair. “Do a poll in the newspaper, eh? Yes or no, should I shave.”
“Now, with my moustache, if I drink then all the stuff gets in it. I think I will shave before [the Tour of] Oman.”