Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team knew it had to do its best to protect Mark Cavendish in the crucial Stage 5 of Tour of Qatar on Thursday, and the team worked doggedly at the front to ensure he had perfect position for a third straight victory, and the sixth win for OPQS in 2013 in three different disciplines.
Cavendish extended his GC lead by winning a second intermediate sprint earlier in the stage, and then it was up to OPQS to bring breaks back and guide him to a potential "threepeat." Niki Terpstra played the role of the "anchor" in a three rider breakaway that escaped shortly after Cavendish won the intermediate sprint, minimizing the gap and allowing his teammates to chase. The trio of escapees were brought back with 14km to go. Then, OPQS had the entire team in command of the front inside the final 10km. They guided Cavendish up the left side inside 5km, and with 3km to go, riders like Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Matteo Trentin and Zdenek Stybar were all over the front. Iljo Keisse, Martin Velits, and Stijn Vandenbergh were also in support of the Manx Missile.
Cavendish still had three riders guiding him inside the final kilometer. Niki Terpstra was his last man standing, and, despite other leadouts trying their best to establish better position, Terpstra gave it everything and provided Cavendish an ideal set up to accelerate for the victory and extend his GC lead to 15 seconds.
Yauheni Hutarovich (AG2R La Mondiale) was 2nd, and Aidis Kruopis (Orica GreenEDGE) placed 3rd.
"The team did this after riding for me the whole day," Cavendish said of the great leadout work by his teammates. "The last two days of course we wanted the big commitment, but we really got out the unit today. We just rode incredible as a unit."
Cavendish said the race was not as easy as it looked.
"Even mild winds here on this circuit causes some problems," Cavendish said. "We knew it would be stressful today. It caused a few splits but we always had five or six guys riding for me. The protection was spot on. As for my spot in the final, we really kept together. Some other teams tried to take over — I think they got some confidence in the last few days. But my entire team came to me in the last minute and we just went."
Cavendish also dedicated the victory to OPQS owner Zdenek Bakala for his birthday!
"We knew if we got through today it would be easy tomorrow," Cavendish said of the GC lead. "Also, it's Zdenek Bakala's birthday today. What's better than you getting a victory from the team? It's a great birthday gift for him I think."