Cycling: Mark Cavendish goes close in Qatar desert

Sprint king undeterred by sandstorms as he continues to settle into his Belgian team

Mark Cavendish came within a whisker of securing his highest profile win of 2013 to date in the Tour of Qatar today when he pounded across the finishing line on the windswept road at Dukhan beach in sixth place.

On an eventful 145-kilometre trek north and west across the Qatar peninsula in gale force winds and even the odd sandstorm, Cavendish, clad in the blue and grey of his new team, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, had nothing to reproach himself for his near miss. The Manxman had been in the thick of the action from the gun, taking part in an early break of 14, then as the peloton splintered on Qatar's broad motorways, staying close to the first of six waves of riders that formed. A late three-man breakaway, though, was only engulfed by a front bunch of some three dozen riders, including Cavendish, in the closing metres of the finishing straight. In the chaotic mass dash that followed fractions of a second later he was – despite his earlier efforts – still very much in the mix.

Cavendish has already raced this year for his Belgian team, snatching a first win in January on stage one of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina. But Qatar's harsher weather and a field packed with riders honing their form for the fast-upcoming Classics make the Middle East's premier stage race his first major test of how he is adapting to his new squad in 2013.

"At Qatar he and his team are all moving up a big notch compared to Argentina. We're not putting any pressure on him, it's all about getting the season started," says Danish ex-pro Brian Holm, one of Cavendish's sports directors at Omega Pharma-Quick Step, and previously with him in the HTC- Highroad squad. "If he can win a stage here that'll be great, if he can get two even better. But he could come home with nothing – that's life and that's cycling"

Holm estimates that building a leadout train – the long line of team-mates that protected and guided Cavendish to the ideal blast-off position for victory in his former HTC squad, and almost always one of the most complex areas to handle when a sprinter comes into a new team – could take "up to a year to construct".

"We'll make some big mistakes for sure. Even in the Giro and probably in the first stage of the Tour," Holm said. "But time will go by and for sure it's going to get better and better. Our experience with Cavendish is that riders really step up a level when they race with him, he makes them stronger."

Qatar's ultra-flat network of desert roads is a notoriously tricky testing ground for sprinters and their teams, with its strongly gusting desert winds and highly exposed terrains leaving no hiding place. With riders champing at the bit for action after the winter break, Qatar's sprints tend to be exceptionally boisterous, chaotic affairs, with crashes a regular feature.

Cavendish has taken four stages at Qatar in his career, including two in 2012, and Omega Pharma- Quick Step have won five of the last seven editions of the race, but rivals recognised that yesterday's desert battle for his fifth personal victory there was an exceptionally tough challenge.

"The last 20 kilometres were particularly hard," said a dust-grimed Ian Stannard of Cavendish's former team, Sky. "It kind of turned into a stalemate. Quick Step had to work to get him up there, but Cavendish is always up for a sprint." Following today's team time trial, his next chance should come as soon as tomorrow.

* Bradley Wiggins completed his first day's racing of 2013 yesterday in stage one of the Tour of Mallorca with a trip to the winner's podium after he netted the award for "Most Combative Rider". Wiggins finished 161st on the stage, won by Belgian Kenny Dehaes.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone