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Boonen takes first stage in Tour of Qatar

After a rough 2011, Boonen shows he's back on form

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Doha, Feb 5, 2012 (AFP) – Tom Boonen of Belgium won the first, 133.5 kilometer stage of the Tour of Qatar on Sunday, sprinting home ahead of Britain’s Adam Blythe and Peter Sagan of Slovakia.

The win gave Boonen the overall lead ahead of Monday’s second stage, a 11.3 kilometre team time-trial on the motor-cycle Grand Prix circuit of Lusail. The win was a sign that the veteran Boonen is starting to get some of his old form back after an injury-wrecked 2011 when he chalked up only two wins — one coming at the Tour of Qatar 12 months ago.

Boonen won a stage last week at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina and his teammates were left in no doubt that he is firmly back in the saddle. “I am confident that I can still compete with all top sprinters out there, even though these days that is not my priority,” he said.

“Last year at this time I was struggling with pains in my left leg, which stemmed from the knee operation I had. “That dragged on for months and then I broke bones in my hand in the Tour of Spain. “Today all that is behind me and at last I am free from injuries.”

The former world champion, however, said he was surprised at winning on Sunday, having spent three days traveling to the Gulf from South America. “There was also jet lag to get over and at the start of the race I didn’t feel great. But gradually it all came together for me,” he said.

The win gave Boonen the overall lead ahead of Monday’s second stage, a 11.3-kilometer team time-trial on the motorcycle Grand Prix circuit of Lusail.