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SEALINE BEACH, Qatar (AFP) — Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) sprinted to victory on Sunday as the Tour of Qatar got under way here.
Rojas outkicked Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ) to win the 136km opening stage between Dukhan and Sealine Beach.
With time bonuses, he leads the overall by four seconds over Boonen and six over Démare.
The pace picked up in the final 10km and some riders, among them world time trial champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and sprint king Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), failed to keep up.
Astana teammates Lars Boom and Lieuwe Westra, along with Tinkoff-Saxo’s Matti Brechel, went for broke from 25km out but crosswinds in the final 14km scuppered their chances of holding on to the finish.
“It was a long day. If we didn’t attack, we would have finished in the dark,” said Boom.
Rojas said the finish was a demanding one, “especially before the last 10k when Bora and Trek took the bunch right into the ditch and made it considerably smaller.”
“Fortunately, we could make the split and with 500 meters to go I went before [Niki] Terpstra, who had jumped from the other side trying to launch the sprint,” he said. “When I saw him running out of gas, with 300 meters left, I jumped, and seeing that the wind was blowing from the left side of the road, I sprinted right next to the barriers, making my rivals face the wind if they wanted to overtake me.”
Rojas said the team’s goal coming into the tour was to win a stage. Though he is unlikely to keep the jersey to the finish, he said he would try.
“We have to try. The important thing for now is not to relax,” he said. “We will give our all and if we manage to maintain or even improve this result with another victory, it will be welcome.”
Monday’s second stage is a 194.5km leg from Al Wakra to Al Khor Corniche.