Britain’s Mark Cavendish won his first race of the season by capturing the fourth stage of the Tour of Qatar.
The sprint specialist, who rides for the Columbia team, pulled ahead of a small group of riders in the final metres of the 141km stage to secure victory ahead of Germany’s Heinrich Haussler.
Belgian Tom Boonen, who took the race lead from Briton Roger Hammond after winning Tuesday’s stage, had launched the final drive for the line but gave up yards from home.
Boonen’s third-place finish enabled him to maintain his overall lead in the standings, but the energy he expended in the stage’s final kilometres as he tried to fight off Hammond’s challenge is likely to have taken its toll.
Cavendish surged to victory from way back in the field, closing the gap on the leading pack with 12km to go and establishing himself among the front-runners in the last 4000 metres.
“Apart from being a victory over Tom Boonen, it was certainly a victory over myself,” said the Isle of Man cyclist, winner of four stages in last year’s Tour de France.
“I really had to push myself to stick with the leaders towards the end.
“When I saw Tom taking a line on the right in the sprint, I took my chances on his left. It was the right option,” he said, declaring himself “very happy” to have won his first real sprint of the year.
Boonen chastised himself for being “too gentle during the sprint”, a tactic which he said “opened the door a bit too easily” for Cavendish.
“But the most important thing was to conserve the overall lead,” he said.
The former world champion now has a 10-second advantage over Hammond going into the 147km fifth and penultimate stage on Thursday.