Mark Cavendish won his first race for Team Sky and his first in the world champion's jersey when sprinting to victory on the third stage of the Tour of Qatar.
"You never really get the season going until you get that first win under your belt."
Cavendish and team-mates Bernhard Eisel and Juan Antonio Flecha worked their way into a lead group of just over 30 riders as the peloton was split into three by crosswinds with 30 kilometres remaining in the 146.5km stage from Dukhan to Al Gharafa Stadium.
Most of the big-name sprinters were in that front selection but on the slightly uphill finish it turned into a straight-up battle between the world champion and race leader Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
And having been guided into position by Eisel, Cavendish produced his trademark burst of acceleration to land the spoils by just over a bike length from Boonen, with Aidis Kruopis in third, Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) fourth, John Degenkolb (Project 1t4i) fifth and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) sixth.
It was Team Sky's first victory of the new season and came just days after Cavendish was laid low by illness on the flight over to Qatar. The win also put him third in the overall standings, eight seconds and two seconds behind Boonen and Farrar respectively.
On a roll
Understandably delighted afterwards, Cavendish said: "I’m very happy with that. I’m still not 100-per-cent but we wanted to ride well as a team and if it came down to a sprint then it came down to a sprint. It split up which we weren’t really expecting but the wind picked up and I was looked after by the lads who got me to the front group.
"We didn’t really have to ride once we were in the group. I had Bernie Eisel and Flecha there in the final with me to just keep me in position. I wanted to come off Boonen’s wheel but then [Kruopis] from GreenEDGE came over on the right and boxed me in. I had to swing out and I wanted to wait for the headwind finish so left it late and came past Boonen.
"It’s incredible to win [with the rainbow jersey]. I said I wanted to make the jersey proud. You never really get the season going until you get that first win under your belt. So now it’s there I can hopefully get on a roll now and we can win some things."
Sports Director Steven de Jongh was also keen to highlight the roles of Eisel and Flecha in helping Cavendish to the victory, telling us: "We were a bit nervous as we only had three guys in the front group but luckily we had a lot of experience there with Flecha and Bernie.
"Flecha could give Cav some protection until 500 metres to go and then Bernie helped put him on the wheel of Boonen. I’m happy we took the first win this year and when you take into account Cav was sick I think you cannot complain at all. He is still up there on GC now in third place so it’s all good."
Winds of change
The initial key moment of the stage had come with 30 kilometres to go as echelons and three distinct groups formed as crosswinds became a factor in the race for the first time this year.
That front group soon swallowed up an early four-man break which comprised Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha), Alexandre Lemair (Bridgestone Anchor), Mart Ojavee (Champion System) and Mehdi Sohrabi (Lotto-Belisol).
And heading on the Dukhan Road to the sprint finish it was Garmin-Barracuda who had strength in numbers on the front but Cavendish timed his move perfectly to power to an impressive win.
Wednesday's fourth stage takes the riders 144km from Al Thakhira to Madinat Al Shamal and de Jongh added: "Tomorrow it should be a bit of the same again. We have to look at the wind and make sure we stay organised as it’s pretty exposed as usual in Qatar."