Beaming from ear to ear as he stood in equally dazzling sunshine on Doha Corniche, Mark Cavendish finished off his most impressive early season ever in perfect style with outright victory in the Tour of Qatar, and a fourth straight bunch sprint stage win.
This early in the cycling season most of Cavendish’s sprinter rivals are - as it were - still yawning and still stretching their legs after the long winter break, their form still uneven.In stark contrast, Cavendish is wide awake already on a superb roll of victories, now totalling six in 2013, and clearly gunning to dominate the season’s bunch sprints as he has been for the last five years.
“It’s a good start, I’m really happy, I just want to go on trying to win in every race I go to,” Cavendish said afterwards.
“I’ll go to the Tour of the Algarve [in Portugal] next and then on to [Belgian early season Classic] Kurne-Brussels-Kurne.” - which Cavendish won last year.
“It’s really nice to be carrying on the tradition of my team winning here in Qatar, too”, now totalling six times in the last decade for the OMega Pharma- Quick Step squad.
“But it’s been a really good week, my team-mates have ridden perfectly for me, they were a bit used up for working for me all day and the entire race, so I knew I can kind of just go alone, can leave it late and come up the left side again. That's exactly what I did.”
Today's bunch sprint win, taken ahead of Belarus sprinter Yauheni Hutarovich came despite Cavendish crashing early on, ending up with a sizable graze on both left elbow and knee.
“It was a bit strange, we weren’t even going that fast, but I was on someone’s wheel and he went down. He doesn't even know what happened. But, that's bike racing. It was a freak accident. I'm a bit banged up, but I'm OK.”
But a phalanx of Omega Pharma-Quick Step team-mates keeping him out of the wind and then controlling what few attempts there were for a breakaway, Cavendish ultimately could not have asked for a smoother ride to the finish of Qatar’s final stage.
He was also clearly as alert as ever as the peloton tackled the last laps of the Corniche - amiably pointing out afterwards to one British spectator who asked for an autograph on his ‘Go, Cav, Go!” sign that he had been holding it up the wrong way round during the buildup to the finale - and snapping perfectly into place the head of the pack as it curved round the seafront road in the final metres.
And then with a brief rush for the line it was there: Cavendish’s fourth straight win out of four - a personal best as a professional - and a rare but faultlessly achieved second overall victory in his career. He is now just four short of his hundredth professional win, and to judge by his early season, that will not be a long time coming.