Bernhard Eisel and Team Sky fought hard to maintain fifth overall on the final stage at the Tour of Qatar.
With only seconds separating the majority of the top 10 the Austrian knew that attack was the best form of defence, jumping out at the first intermediate sprint in Al Wakra to grab two crucial bonus seconds.
That meant Eisel was able to weather the storm at the second sprint to remain fifth, 32 seconds behind race winner Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step), who also claimed a fourth stage victory in the process.
Courtesy of a strong team time trial on Monday and a week of close racing Team Sky were able to pack out the lower reaches of the top 10 – Edvald Boasson Hagen, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas sealing eighth to 10th overall as their Classics preparation intensified. A consistent performance also saw the team finish second in the team classification.
As the final stage reached its climax it was Cavendish who again held off Yauheni Hutarovich (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Barry Markus (Vacansoleil-DCM), with Eisel the best-placed Team Sky rider in the bunch in eighth.
It is only the second time Cavendish has topped a general classification in his career following a win last season for Team Sky at ZLM Toer.
His margin of overall victory was 25 seconds over Brent Bookwalter (BMC), while Adam Blythe (BMC) made it two Britons in the top five by finishing fourth, 30 seconds down on his compatriot.
The final stage took the riders on a short, 116km flat route starting at the Sealine Beach Resort and finishing with 10 laps of a 6km circuit around Doha Corniche.
In the absence of any purposeful breakaway, the peloton entered the final 30km with Omega Pharma - Quick-Step controlling the pace at the front. But as the pace quickened in the closing stages, other teams including Team Sky took up the initiative and the Belgian squad fell back down to the pack.
Eisel was still hopeful of more seconds and was dropped off by Ian Stannard in the final metres before a lead-out by Boasson Hagen – eighth the end result.
Cavendish, however, has proved the master of positioning in Qatar and used other teams' lead-out trains on the left-hand flank of the peloton as the springboard for his sprint victory.
After the stage, we caught up with Sports Director Servais Knaven, who was buoyed by the performance of his riders this week.
He said: “I am really happy with what the guys showed this week. We were a bit unlucky that there was only one day with real wind, so it was hard for us to win stages, but we had a really good team time trial.
“We can look back at a good week where we had good teamwork but just missed out a bit in the sprints. But Qatar is a pretty difficult place for sprinting, especially when there is no wind.
“But we can be happy with what we have achieved.”
Knaven also said that the Tour of Qatar has put Team Sky's riders in good stead ahead of the Classics.
He added: “They have put in a lot of work and effort over the last few weeks. They go home for a week now and then we will do another camp in Mallorca. They are looking forward to a break because it has been a hard block for them.
“Every day they have got a little bit better and it was good to have had that long together and help each other through the good and bad. That’s really good for team spirit. After a bit of recovery, they will be ready for the Classics.”