Rojas Wins Stage 1 at Tour of Qatar
The first stage of the Tour of Qatar 2015 was as eventful as expected with wind, crashes, echelons and a surprise winner. As fifty riders powered to the front in the closing meters of the stage, José-Joaquin Rojas proved to be the fastest rider. Team Movistar's Spaniard captured a fine victory ahead of Tom Boonen and Arnaud Démare.
Two days after the final stage of the women’s Tour of Qatar, the wind had picked up but was this time blowing from the south-east. In other words, it would be a tough day for the men who gathered in Dukhan for the start of the 2015 Tour of Qatar. Facing the wind for most of the day, the 141 riders took off at 01:23 for a 136 kilometer stage towards the Sealine Beach situated in the South-East of Qatar.
After just a kilometer of racing, two riders managed to break away from the peloton. The hopeful riders were Salomein (TSV) and Luca Sterbini (BAR). Their lead rapidly grew and went from 2’50 at kilometer 8 to a maximum of 10’40 at kilometer 22, while Matti Breschel (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Vandenberghe (Etixx-QuickStep), on a counter-attack, were 7’15 behind. Eventually, as the race headed east to cross the peninsula, the pack moved closer to the breakaway riders.
While the counter attackers were caught at kilometer 32, the front pair reached the first intermediate sprint (Km 38) - which was won by Salomein - with a 5’05 lead. The two riders were eventually caught at kilometer 65. Shortly after, the battle between favorites started. Indeed, as the Trek Factory Racing and Etixx-Quickstep teams picked up the pace at the front, the peloton split into several groups.
46 men were present in a front group. The only favorites or big names having failed to make it to the front were Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Lars Boom (AST) and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky Pro Cycling). After enjoying a 25 second advantage the leader’s group was eventually caught at kilometer 81. As the bunched pack headed towards the second bonus sprint, Boonen (Etixx-Quickstep) and Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) were caught in a crash. The crash resulted in no significant injuries, but caused a big fright for two of the title contenders. The sprint was then claimed by Arndt (Team Giant - Alpecin) ahead of Niki Terpstra (Etixx - Quick Step) and Ferrari (Lampre). After having tried his luck a first time, Greg Van Avermaet (Team BMC Racing) gave it a second go at km 95. After enjoying a 25” lead, the Belgian was rapidly brought back.
At kilometer 107, Breschel (TCS), Boom and Westra (AST) formed a new breakaway group. Their lead peaked at 1 minute, five kilometers later. But as the pack chased harder and split into several groups, there wasn’t much the escapees could do. They were indeed caught at kilometer 125. Meanwhile just over fifty riders were leading the race. The only big names not present at the front were Germany's Marcel Kittel (Team Giant - Alpecin), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team MTN-Qhubeka), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky Pro Cycling) and Pozzato (Lampre).
With 10 kilometers to go, the leaders had a 45 second advantage. That gap dropped down to 11 seconds with just three kilometers to go. But there was no catching the front group. In a final bunched sprint, Team Movistar's José-Joaquin Rojas surprised the field as he took off early. The Spaniard managed to keep his impressive pace all the way to the line, beating Tom Boonen (Team Etixx-QuickStep) and Arnaud Démare (Team FDJ), thus taking his first ever victory in Qatar.
Thanks to his stage victroy, Rojas will be wearing the golden general classification leader jersey in tomorrow's stage 2 of Tour of Qatar 2015 from Al Wakra to Al Khor. Rojas also leads the points classification while Démare conquers the pearl white jersey for being the best young rider in this year's Tour of Qatar.
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