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Qatar gold rush: Cavendish up, Bookwalter down

Cavendish supplants BMC Racing atop the Qatar leaderboard and will keep chasing sprint wins

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DOHA (VN) — Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took over the Tour of Qatar lead from Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) on Wednesday in Al Khor. After four days of fighting, Bookwalter saw his lead cracked by the “Manx Missile” and a crash.

“They told me this morning that basically there’s a crash every year, if not on the roundabout, then right after,” Bookwalter told VeloNews. “We tried to keep position without being too aggressive because there was a lot of wheel rubbing, and bumping and grinding.”

Bookwalter sat relaxed on an ice chest after the finish, prepared to take off the golden jersey he earned by winning the first leg of the tour on Sunday.

He stayed upright in Wednesday’s tussle, but lost ground when a crash occurred in the final 1,700 meters after the roundabout. Cavendish charged to the sprint win, taking the 10-second bonus and leap-frogging from eight seconds back to two seconds up on Bookwalter.

The 28-year-old New Mexico native maintained his time on the overall because the crash occurred in the final three kilometers, but Cavendish’s time bonus grab ended Bookwalter’s three-day run in the golden jersey.

Bookwalter’s teammate Taylor Phinney sits third overall at eight seconds. The two were lucky not to come off worse. VeloNews understands that Koen De Kort (Argos-Shimano) broke his collarbone in the late crash. Several other riders were seen cleaning blood off their bodies on the seafront after the stage.

Cavendish moved into the lead thanks to back-to-back convincing wins in Qatar. After holding off an onslaught of sprint trains yesterday, today was more straightforward.

Omega Pharma dealt with a three-man escape that gained around seven minutes during the stage. With some help from the other teams, namely Argos for John Degenkolb, Cavendish’s mates pulled it in nine kilometers from the finish in Al Khor.

Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and then two-time cyclocross world champion Zdenek Stybar escorted their captain. Matteo Trentin and Niki Terpstra carried him through the final “bump and grind.”

“It wasn’t as chaotic; narrower roads so not as many teams can get up there. In the last 3K if you’re not at the front you can’t get there,” said Cavendish. “Matteo did a perfect job keeping me up there until the roundabout; coming into the roundabout he went round the outside of a guy who was coming back. I lost Matteo, thought I was going to have to freestyle the last few hundred meters, then Niki Terpstra came round with 1,200 [meters] to go and moved me up about 15 positions.

“I knew from experience on this finish, because the wind comes from the right, you want to be on the left. But the road sweeps right, so the peloton naturally moves to the right, so I knew the gap would open on the left. So I did exactly same as last year and just sat until 300, 200 [meters] to go.”

Last year, Cavendish won the same stage ahead of Liquigas teammates Daniel Oss and Peter Sagan. On Wednesday, he easily beat Barry Markus (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Andrea Guardini (Astana).

Cavendish has two more chances to win in Qatar. If he does so in at least one of the two remaining legs, the final overall should be his unless BMC Racing is able to snap the peloton in the wind.

Phinney and Bookwalter won’t be pleased when they check the weather. Forecasters are predicting more of the same over the coming days, light wind and sun.

“I just go, trying to win stages and maybe the GC comes from that,” said Cavendish. “I can’t go defending the jersey because that’s likely to take away from winning stages because I’m a sprinter.”