The first women?s Tour of Qatar was won by Dutch sprinter Kirsten Wild after a fierce battle against Italian Giorgia Bronzini. Qatar marks a historic landmark as the first women?s professional bike race ever to held in the Middle East.
In a nervewrackingly tense finale, Wild could only be sure of her triumph after taking third in the final dash for the line in the Al Khor peninsula on the last day?s racing – won by Bronzini for a second time.
Coincidentally, Al Khor was the same finish where Wild?s Cervélo team-mate Roger Hammond had won stage two of the men?s Tour of Qatar eight days previously.
But the strong cross-winds that had split the men?s race apart did not make their presence felt at all in the women?s event on Tuesday and for most of the stage the bunch ground over the Qatar desert with barely an attack until the final ten kilometres.
The leader since stage two, Wild had opened up a wider margin overall by taking two bonus sprints, although Bronzini remained a threat.
As the Dutch sprinter said afterwards, she was still unsure of whether her advantage of less than 10 seconds would be enough to win overall. It proved to be sufficent – but only just.
?It was me against Bronzini and I had to do a lot of calculating after each sprint and again at the finish,? Wilde told Cycling Weekly after donning her last gold jersey of the race. She finally won by four seconds over Bronzini, with Australia?s Kirsty Broun in third.
?Fortunately our sports director worked out we had a bit of a margin after the two sprints, but I still had to go all out at the finish to try and break things up a bit.?
?Finally I got third and even if I didn?t win the stage, I?m happy just to be the first winner of such a key event in the Middle East.?
Crowds were relatively small at the starts and finishes of the women?s race, but media interest both from local tv and newspapers and abroad in the landmark event was very high.
No British riders took part in the opening stage race of the women?s calendar – which gave the riders VIP treatment in the shape of de-luxe accomodation in the five-star Ritz Carlton hotel during the event.
However, there were teams from Australia, the USA, Hong Kong and South Africa. No local Qatar teams or riders participated, although the Qatar Cycling Federation are apparently keen to change that in the future.
?We had seven of the top eight women?s teams in the world here,? race organiser Christian Prudhomme pointed out before the race started.
?This is a big step for women here and in the Middle East and it’s a big step for the internationalization of women?s cycling, too.?
Peloton rides in Qatar to honour dead colleague
Sombre reaction after rider’s death in Qatar
Cavendish takes first triumph of season in Qatar
Tour of Qatar: Boonen takes stage three
Tour of Qatar: Hammond takes first win in three years
Wiggins leads Qatar after Garmin take opening team time trial
Cavendish and Boonen go head to head in the desert