|Cipo still has got it.
For the penultimate stage of the Tour of Qatar, Mario Cipollini proved he still had what it takes to beat the best sprinters. The Italian clinched the dayís race ahead of Tom Boonen while a huge amount of riders finished well over 20 minutes adrift.
Under a bright sun, the 121 riders took the start of stage 4 of the Tour of Qatar at 12h45 for the 169km ride.
After only a few kilometres, the pack broke into different groups. Under the influence of the CSC and Quickstep teams, a first group of 55 riders including golden jersey Michaelsen (CSC), silver jersey Tom Boonen (QSD) and the best young rider Breschel (CSC) increased the gap.
At the first intermediate sprint (km 24) Backstedt (LIQ) beat Bos (SHM) and Usov (A2R), while the following group with McEwen and Rodriguez (both DVL) were 1í20 adrift. At km 63, the lead of the front group climbed up to 3í30 as the followers stopped their efforts.
Mario by an inch
The second intermediate sprint (km 93) was won by Cipollini (LIQ) ahead of Kemna (SHM) and Nazon (C.A). The second group remained 16í15 behind. In the last two laps of the city circuit, ending the dayís stage, quite a few riders including Flickinger (A2R) and Voeckler (BTL) tried to break away... in vain.
The leading peloton finished bunched on the line. Mario Cipollini eventually won the stage ahead of Tom Boonen and Aart Vierhoouten (DVL). Denmarkís Lars Michaelsen keeps his overall leaderís golden jersey. Tom Boonen hangs on to his pointís silver jersey while Matti Breschel remains the best young rider.
Thomas Voeckler: ďIn the same spirit as last year!Ē
Three questions to Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), French National champion and yellow jersey during the Tour de France
How do you feel in the first weeks of this new season?
I was lucky enough not to have problems during my preparation and thatís good news. I did the same kind of preparation as last year before starting here in Qatar and then heading to the Tour Mťditerranťen. For the moment all is going as planned. I need quite a few days of racing to be in shape. The Tour of Qatar is a great event for that although itís really made for sprinters. You need to be already good physically with all the wind here. I know that Iím not here for victory but for us this race allows use to ride a lot of kilometres in excellent conditions while itís still very cold in Europe. Thatís already a huge advantage on the others.
How are you coping with your new life after your fantastic Tour de France 2004?
Of course, I have more pressure but weíll see how it goes. Iím not going to change my habits just because of what happened last year. People will probably expect a lot of me and the riders will keep an eye on me. I just hope to be as good. If you look a year back, I wasnít as popular, but itís good sign, it means that people pay attention to what I do. Itís now up to me to make sure I carry on improving.
What are your goals for this season?
Iím not the kind of rider that has specific goals on this or that race. I donít need that to find motivation. I prefer to get into good condition and try to get good results when Iím in shape. However, I keep in mind that the most important part of the season will be in July. Iím not going to start the Tour thinking about a good place in the overall or a stage victory. Iíll just start with the same spirit as last year just like the way my team does, in offensive fashionÖ
This year the team is among the Pro Tour. Weíve complained enough in the past because we werenít automatically invited in big races. Thatís why, Iíll probably compete in the big Classics: Milan-San Remo and the spring classics including Paris-Roubaix.
Stages Tour of Quatar
1 Monday, January 31 143 km
Al Khor Corniche > Doha Hyatt Plaza
2 Tuesday, February 1 167,5 km
Camel Race Track > Qatar Olympic Committee
3 Wednesday, February 2 194 km
Al Wakra > Al Khor Corniche
4 Thursday, February 3 169 km
Al Zubarah > Doha Landmark
5 Friday, February 4 153 km
Sealine Beach Resort > Doha Corniche
Total 826,5 km
Credits: Tour of Quatar