Edvald Boasson Hagen sprinted to sixth place as stage three of the Tour of Qatar came down to a bunch kick.
The Norwegian hit out early on the run into Mesaieed after Team Sky had arrived on the front in the final four kilometres to push the pace – Luke Rowe putting in the final effort to drop off his team-mate for the sprint.
In a hectic finish it was former Team Sky rider Mark Cavendish who emerged victorious, the Manxman edging out Barry Markus (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Aidis Kruopis (Orica-GreenEDGE) on the line.
Cavendish’s Omega Pharma – Quick-Step squad helped push the pace on the run-in after a five-man break including Team Sky’s Mathew Hayman had been reeled in out on the road.
The Australian moved himself up the general classification to eighth overall courtesy of time bonuses, just behind team-mate Bernhard Eisel.
The pair sit 11 and 12 seconds off leader Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) at the half-way point with Boasson Hagen and Geraint Thomas rounding out the top 10, 14 and 15 seconds back respectively with all still to play for.
With lots of teams all fighting for the same piece of road at the finish, Sports Director Servais Knaven explained that fresh legs were a key factor.
“It’s typical this time of the year,” he admitted. “It was a fairly easy stage with some wind but not a lot and plenty of fresh teams there at the end. Everyone wanted to be near the front which makes it quite hectic. It’s often like that at the start of the season when everybody is nervous and wants to get a win under their belts.
“The guys were there. We maybe hit the front a little bit early, but when you are there sometimes you have to go instead of being swamped and dropping back to 50th place.
“There are still three days to go and we will keep trying to get those bonifications. It wasn’t the plan necessarily to put Mathew in the break but sometimes things like this can happen during the race. It put us in a good position. Yesterday were held sixth through tenth on the GC and so normally we’d have been under some pressure to chase. But with Mat up the road we didn’t have to do that and he also took three bonus seconds. You never know what is going to happen in the next few days.”
Despite the wind not playing as much of a factor as on Sunday’s opener there was still plenty of action in the peloton at the end of the 143km test from Al Wakra to Mesaieed.
With every second counting there was a big fight at the first intermediate sprint with both BMC and Team Sky gunning for bonifications. The former’s Adam Blythe took three seconds with Boasson Hagen taking a single second for himself.
Hayman hit out in the break allowing the rest of his team to sit back in the peloton, also able to soak up three important bonus seconds in the process to bring him closer to Bookwalter.
BMC Racing set about controlling affairs on behalf of the race leader but as things came back together with 30km remaining it was Quick-Step who hit the front on the largely straight run for home - Cavendish taking the victory.