Cycling: Boonen enjoys winning return in Qatar

Triple champion Tom Boonen of Belgium won yesterday's opening stage of the Tour of Qatar, his first major race since undergoing knee surgery following a crash last May.

The Quickstep cyclist finished the 90.4-mile ride from the western city of Dukhan to Al Khor in the north in 2hr 59min 29sec. Heinrich Haussler of Australia and compatriot Mark Renshaw were next in the same time, while Boonen's team-mate Nikolas Maes won the white jersey for the best young rider. It was Boonen's 18th stage win in Qatar, in an event he won in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Boonen crashed at the Tour of Switzerland and skipped the Tour de France to have an operation in July. He missed most of last season, taking part in only a few minor races towards the end of 2010.

"It took me a long time to get back to this level," Boonen said. "It took a lot of work for me to get fit again. Maybe it was the hardest thing of my career to get back to this level."

After the 1.6-mile prologue on Saturday, Boonen now leads by four seconds over Renshaw and is eight seconds in front of Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland.

Today's second stage is an 84.2-mile trek from the Camel Race Track to Doha Golf Club.