Mark Cavendish came through the trickiest stage of the Tour of Qatar today with flying colors , capturing yet another victory - his third in three days and fourth of 2013 - and a landmark overall win all but certain tomorrow.
With frequent changes of direction on the exposed, flat 154 kilometre trek across north-west Qatar, the often-repeated stage from Al Zubara Fort to Madinat Al Shamal has often seen the peloton shatter in strong cross-winds in the past and the race leader put at risk.
But the winds stayed calm and instead Cavendish, strongly supported by team-mate Niki Terpstra, made a triumphant late charge for the line, with bonus seconds for the victory helping lift his overall lead margin from 2 seconds to a much solider advantage of 15.
“This stage is the always the most unpredictable one,” Cavendish said afterwards, “but I knew if we could get through this then we’re in with a very good chance of winning the race outright.”
“The guys [Omega Pharma-Quick Step team-mates] rode perfectly, they led me into every corner perfectly and finally they gave me a leadout which was perfect, as though they’ve been doing it for years.”
In what is now his most successful opening to the season in seven years as a professional, and which reconfirms he is settling in well into his new Omega Pharma Quick Step team, Cavendish should - barring last-minute disaster - be crowned as the Tour of Qatar winner tomorrow at the end of a straightforward stage to Doha’s Corniche.
Just finishing in the main pack would be enough to secure him his second ever overall victory in a stage race, and Cavendish will not have forgotten he suffered a nasty crash on Qatar’s final stage last year when he was brought down by clumsily manoeuvring rivals just 125 metres from the finish.
Given his run of success so far, though, and impressive form, fighting for one last victory in Qatar - and his fourth in a row - seems much more likely.