Road

Friday’s EuroFile: Hunter wins Qatar; Hushovd leads Besseges; Belgian coach targeted; Steels joins elite; Beloki good to go

South African sprinter Robert Hunter (Rabobank) took care of business in the Middle East to win Friday’s final stage and claim the overall title of the third Tour of Qatar. Hunter won his second stage in three days to claim the overall prize, scoring a big win ahead of Italian Francesco Chicchi (Fassa Bortolo) and Wouter van Mechelen (Vlaanderen), who came across third. With only one second separating race leader Hunter and archrival Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) going into Friday’s 163km finale, it was heated battle from the gun. A group of about 40 riders tore away early as Lotto-Domo

By VeloNews staff and wire reports

South African sprinter Robert Hunter (Rabobank) took care of business in the Middle East to win Friday’s final stage and claim the overall title of the third Tour of Qatar.

Hunter won his second stage in three days to claim the overall prize, scoring a big win ahead of Italian Francesco Chicchi (Fassa Bortolo) and Wouter van Mechelen (Vlaanderen), who came across third.

With only one second separating race leader Hunter and archrival Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) going into Friday’s 163km finale, it was heated battle from the gun. A group of about 40 riders tore away early as Lotto-Domo punched the accelerator.

It came down to another sprint when the dwindled bunch of just 41 riders hit the Doha Corniche finishing straight. McEwen could do no better than fourth in the mass gallop and left Qatar settling for second and without a stage victory.

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) clinched the points jersey and scored a sprint victory in stage two, a sign that the big Belgian will be bumping shoulders this season in the bunch sprints.

Tour of Qatar (UCI 2.3), Stage 5, Doha Golf Club to Doha Corniche
1. Robert Hunter (RSA), Rabobank, 163km in 3:28:41
2. Francesco Chichi (I), Fassa Bortolo, same time
3. Wouter Van Mechelen (B), Vlaanderen-T Interim, s.t.
4. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Lotto-Domo, s.t.
5. Giosue Bonomi (I), Saeco, s.t.

Overall (after 5 of 5 stages)
1. Robert Hunter (RSA), Rabobank, 17:33:17
2. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Lotto-Domo, at 0:08
3. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step-Davitamon, at 0:12
4. Jean-Patrick Nazon (F), AG2R Prevoyance, at 0:13
5. Frank Hoj (Den), CSC, at 0:33

Hushovd takes over Besseges
Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) won Friday’s third stage and moved into the overall lead of the Etoile de Bessèges in France.

Hushovd finished ahead of fellow Scandinavian Magnus Backstedt (Alessio) and Carlos Da Cruz (FDJeux.com) to snag the victory. Hushovd takes over the leader’s jersey from Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet), who won Wednesday’s opening stage.

Etoile de Bessèges 2004 ( 2.3 ), Stage 3, Nimes to Les Fumades
1. Thor Hushovd (N), Credit Agricole, 160km in 4:10:28
2. Magnus Backstedt (Swe), Alessio
3. Carlos Da Cruz (F), FDJeux.com
4. Stefan Van Dijck (Ned), Lotto-Domo
5. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Cofidis — all same time

Overall
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Credit Agricole, 10:56:42
2. Jan Kirsipuu (Est), AG2r Prevoyance, at 0:06
3. Tom Steels (B), Landbouwkrediet, at 0:08
4. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Cofidis, at 0:09
5. Jo Planckaert (B), Palmans-Collstrop, at 0:11
6. Magnus Backstedt (Swe), Alessio-Bianchi, at 0:12
7. Angelo Furlan (I), Alessio-Bianchi, s.t.
8. Frederik Willems (B), Vlaanderen-T-Interim, at 0:13
9. Carlos Dacruz (F), Fdjeux.com, at 0:14
10. Janek Tombak (Est), Cofidis, at 0:17

Prosecutor targets Belgian coach
A Belgian public prosecutor wants national cycling coach Jose De Cauwer to stand trial on drug charges following an investigation into doping among cyclists.

A prosecutor in Antwerp has called on a court to put De Cauwer and 10 other suspects on trial after finding enough evidence to press charges against them, a spokeswoman at the public prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

“We expect a decision at the end of February,” she said.

Laurent De Backer, president of the Belgian Cycling Federation (RLVB), told local VRT radio that the RLVB would wait for the final verdict before deciding whether to suspend De Cauwer.

The investigation into doping among Belgian cyclists began nearly three years ago when a former Belgian cyclist threw a bottle containing traces of amphetamines out of his car window during a police chase in Antwerp.

Police later found a syringe containing illegal substances during a search of De Cauwer’s home. The coach has said he is confident he will be exonerated. – Reuters

Steels joins top 10 on win list
Veteran sprinter Tom Steels joined the top 10 of active cyclists for career victories on Wednesday when he won the first stage of the Etoile de Besseges race in Marseille.

The former Belgian champion, who won the same opening stage last year, outsprinted the main bunch in the streets of Marseille to earn his 61st win in 10 years as a professional.

Steels beat compatriot Jo Planckaert, second in the Grand Prix d’Ouverture on Tuesday, and Norwegian Thor Hushovd on the 139.5km stage.

The 32-year-old is now tied for ninth for the number of career wins among active riders. Italian Mario Cipollini leads the list with 162 wins, followed by German Erik Zabel with 140. – Reuters Beloki gets OK from doc
Joseba Beloki got the thumbs up from doctors following a complete medical check-up in Vitoria on Thursday, the Spanish daily MARCA reported. Beloki couldn’t take the start this week at the GP Marseillaise with tendonitis in his right leg. Doctors said the pain is expected to go away with a few days’ rest. Beloki is now hoping to make his 2004 season debut at Luis Puig on Feb. 22.