MADINAT AL SHAMAL, Qatar (VN) — Edvald Boasson Hagen waved goodbye to a turbo-charged group of riders and his lead in the Tour of Qatar on Thursday when he suffered a double puncture in the final eight kilometers of stage 4. The only bright spot for the Norwegian, however, was that his Dimension Data teammate Mark Cavendish was able to take over the golden leader’s jersey with one stage left.
Boasson Hagen, the winner of Wednesday’s time trial, sat bent over in a folding chair next to the team’s car after the stage, consoled by Cavendish and his other teammates. What would have been an important classification win in his career had slipped away in a flash.
“Shit happens,” Boasson Hagen said, still seated. “Yeah, it would’ve been a big win, but now my Qatar win is gone. I can’t do much about it.”
Boasson Hagen went from having a 26-second lead to fifth-place overall at 19 seconds back. The Dimension Data team, minus Cavendish, dropped back to help Boasson Hagen, but he had lost too much ground on the main group.
Cavendish was left all alone and he sprinted to fifth place on the stage, finishing with the same time as winner Alexander Kristoff of Katusha. Cavendish now leads the GC standings by two seconds over BMC Racing’s Greg Van Avermaet. Manuel Quinziato, Van Avemmaet’s teammate, is six seconds behind in third.
“I’m massively disappointed for Eddy,” said Cavendish, who wore the leader’s jersey in stages 2 and 3. “It’s shit, less than 10 kilometers to go to have a puncture. Obviously, when the other teams see it, they are going to go full-gas. BMC and LottoNL – Jumbo were going full. I had to stay put. It was the right decision to put everyone back with Edvald and try to save the golden jersey. My main aim when I was alone was just to limit my loses and not lose any time. We could’ve lost everything otherwise.”
After winning the 11-kilometer time trial yesterday, Boasson Hagen looked ready to continue his rebirth after leaving Sky for MTN – Qhubeka in 2015. His classification defense seemed straightforward, especially since the barren plains of Qatar’s northwest were relatively calm this afternoon instead of blustery as usual.
With only eight kilometers remaining, however, he stopped for a front wheel change. He took a wheel from Mavic neutral support and began chasing immediately to rejoin the pack.
“I thought there was only a front puncture, but then I realized I had a double puncture,” Boasson Hagen added. “I stopped and Youcef Reguigui gave me his bike, but it was going too fast at that point and the group was too far away by then. A double flat and the group is gone.”
Regardless, American Tyler Farrar, Jay Thomson, and Cavendish’s lead-out man Mark Renshaw worked to bring back Boasson Hagen. Their effort fell short by 45 seconds, the time gap between them and the small group with stage winner Kristoff and Van Avermaet.
Cyclists often respect the race leader when he suffers a mechanical and slow down for him, but it could not be that way today on the roads inland from Qatar’s rich natural gas reserves.
“We were not pulling, it was LottoNL and BMC, but they had already attacked when he punctured,” Kristoff said about his fellow Norwegian. “I was not thinking about him, I was thinking about the stage.
“It was just bad luck for him. I feel sorry for him because normally he would’ve won the race overall here. He should at least be confident with how he rode yesterday and that he is back on a good level.”