A gutsy attack in the final kilometres of stage two of the Tour of Qatar has earned veteran Roger Hammond his first win in three years as well as the leader?s jersey overall.
The crucial development of the second stage came when gale-force winds had split the peloton on Qatar?s totally exposed desert roads. In a front group of around 14, Hammond was on the right side of the split and with five team-mates for company.
Apart from Hammond, who turned 35 just three days ago, Cervélo?s half-dozen riders included Heinrich Haussler, Andreas Klier, Xavier Florencio, Gabriel Rasch and Briton Dan Lloyd.
Qatar is Lloyd?s first ever race with the new Pro Continental squad and the 28-year-old did more than full credit to his team in a road stage that the windy conditions rendered as hard as any Belgian Classic.
Belgian Classics were probably uppermost in the front group?s thoughts too, given the presence of Tom Boonen, Steve De Jongh and Kevin Hulsmans of the Quick Step squad.
Yes, Quick Step were numerically at a disadvantage compared with Cervélo, but Boonen?s record of 14 stages in Qatar and his daunting reputation made him a force to reckoned with.
Cervélo?s strategy was simple: keep sending rider after rider up the road. After Lloyd and another Cervelo pro, Gabriel Rasch, had attacked, Hammond?s move hit the jackpot.
As hard as Quick Step?s Steve De Jongh tried to pull things back for team-mate Boonen, the Briton maintained his winning margin all the way to the finish and he took the win by one second.
Lloyd was 11th. Cavendish was in the next group back at 2-11, as was Jeremy Hunt. Gold jersey wearer Bradley Wiggins was at 6-38. Ben Swift (Katusha), for whom the flat, fast crosswind-afflicted race must be his least favourite style of racing, was in the back group of some 35 riders, 19 minutes down. It was only the fifth time in the race’s eight year- history that a road stage has not ended in a sprint.
?We were going to hit them one time, then another, then another and eventually one of us would go,? Hammond told Cycling Weekly after he had been up on the podium no less than three times. The first was for the stage win, the second for the leader?s jersey, which he inherited from fellow-Briton Bradley Wiggins (Garmin), and the third for the points.
?The headwind played to our advantage because who was going to try and bring up the other guys? De Jongh went for it, trying to catch me behind, but then it was one on one.?
?I looked back a couple of times, but really it was just to make sure I was still going forwards, the wind was so strong.?
“It was a really hard day. It was a day of attrition. We kept losing more and more riders. Cervélo Test Team won this race, it was a real team effort. At one stage we had seven riders, next best team was Quick Step with three.
Everyone knew it was going to be windy. We are specialists in the crosswinds because we’re Classics riders.”
Hammond said that one reason behind his success was that he had done ?more consistent training this winter. It?s a nice sign that things are going the right way.?
?I?m really chuffed with Lloydy, to make it into the front group and with those riders, I wonder what he was thinking when he looked round and saw all those guys.?
?He should be really chuffed, he?s done a great job, it?s nice to see another Brit come through.?
Mark Cavendish made it into the front group but his bid to take a sprint win ended some 30 kilometres from the line. The Briton lost contact with the lead group after it split when a rider ahead of him sat up unexpectedly.
From then on just two Britons were in the lead group, Hammond and Lloyd. But even if Boonen?s presence made it look tough for Cervélo, the Swiss team played out their strategy perfectly.
As a result, Hammond took his first win in three years and is in the lead of a stage race for the first time since he won the Uniqua Classic in Austria back in 2003.
Given Uniqua took place in the middle of July, that win was almost completely overshadowed by the Tour de France. This time round, however, it should be a different story.
Hammond was one of four designated riders for Cervélo to be in the breaks and in the front groups for Qatar, and the team?s faith in the Briton paid off fully. But can he win the overall with a six second advantage on Boonen?
?The overall is very difficult, it?s a seconds game in this race,? Hammond recognised.
?I?ve won a stage, got the lead and the points lead, so we?ll take it day by day. We?ve got six guys ahead so it wouldn?t disappoint me if one of the other guys from our team took a flyer and took the jersey or won a stage.?
British rider Ben Swift
Bradley Wiggins wears the leader’s jersey during stage two
Hammond wins the stage and takes the race lead
Tour of Qatar stage two, Khalifa Stadium ? Al Khor Corniche, 134km
1. Roger Hammond (GB) Cervélo in 3-33-00
2. Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Katusha at 1sec
3. Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Cervélo
4. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
5. Angelo Furlan (Ita) Lampre
6. Murilo Fischer (Bra) Liquigas
7. Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervélo all same time
8. Xavier Florencio (Spa) Cervélo at 4sec
9. Vicente Reynes (Spa) Columbia
10. Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Silence-Lotto
11. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervélo all same time
15. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 2-11
44. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervélo at 2-11
87. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 6-38
109. Ben Swift (GB) Katusha at 19-56
1. Roger Hammond (GB) Cervélo in 3-39-30
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step at 6sec
3. Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Cervélo at 7sec
4. Murilo Fischer (Bra) Liquigas at 9sec
5. Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervélo at 11sec
6. Steven De Jongh (Ned) Quick Step same time
7. Vicente Reynes (Spa) Columbia at 13sec
8. Angelo Furlan (Ita) Lampre at 14sec
9. Xavier Florencio (Spa) Cervélo
10. Daniel Lloyd (GB) Cervélo both same time
26. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 2-20
30. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Cervélo at 2-21
48. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 6-42
130. Ben Swift (GB) Katusha at 21-14
1 Roger Hammond (GB) Cervélo 30pts
2 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Katusha 27pts
3 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Cervélo 25pts
HAMMOND’S PRO WINS
2000 ? Stage win, Guldensporentweesaagse (Belgium)
2000 ? GP Bodson (Belgium)
2002 ? GP May 1 (Belgium)
2002 ? Tour of Beneden-Maas (Netherlands)
2003 ? British National Road Race Championship
2003 ? Stage win, Uniqa Classic (Austria)
2003 ? Overall, Uniqa Classic (Austria)
2004 ? British National Road Race Championship
2005 ? Stage win, Tour of Britain
2006 ? Stage win, Tour of Britain
2009 ? Stage win, Tour of Qatar
Tour of Qatar: www.letour.fr