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Bittersweet ending in Qatar

For the second year in a row the yellow jersey hung from his sculpted shoulders, but Belgium’s Tom Boonen looked as flat as the beige terrain he had spent the last six days negotiating on the Tour of Qatar.

Boonen claimed the General Classification by eight seconds from second-placed German Heinrich Haussler and third-placed Briton Roger Hammond, but his celebration was muted.

“I dedicate this victory to my friend Frederiek,” the 2009 champion said, moments after crossing the finishing line safely in the peleton.

The desert dust had barely settled following the tragic death of 21-year-old Frederiek Nolf from Belgium just over 24 hours earlier.

The Topsport rider had been found dead in his hotel room on Thursday at approximately 9am.

“Perhaps it would have been better to go home, but the world goes on,” Boonen continued as he acknowledged the Corniche cheers.

“I am pleased to have won but it has been hard for all of us.

“He was a young Flemish rider and we all knew him.”

Tragic loss

Nolf would have been 22 on Tuesday and is the first cyclist to die during a professional race since 2003.

The Belgian rider turned pro last year and had been lying in 88th place in Qatar before disaster struck.

“We left him at 9pm, he had been laughing and making jokes at dinner,” recalled team manager Jean-Pierre Heynderrickx.

“Then they couldn’t wake him in the morning and I went to check on him and one of the riders was cold….. so cold” Heynderrickx trailed off as he began to sob.

It had been Heynderrickx who had discovered Nolf’s dead body.

Qatari Police told Al Jazeera they were not treating the death as suspicious, but a full post mortem is expected to be carried out in his home country when the body returns to Europe.

Former five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx, who is also from Belgium, led the cyclists in a minute’s silence before the start of stage five which was ‘neutralised’.

It became a procession to honour Nolf’s life with the results not counting towards the General Classification.

“It is sad when a rider who is so young dies.

“He was laughing and joking the night before and now this. I can’t explain it,” said 54-year-old Merckx.

Cavendish dominant

Stage six, the last of the race, was won by Britain’s Mark Cavendish who also won a windy stage four.

Columbia Team’s most prominent sprinter showed once again why many rate him as the fastest man on a bicycle in the world.

“I am pleased to have won two stages in what was at times a difficult week, the wind was very intense.

“I thought I had a shot at the overall classification for a while, but I am happy with a top ten finish.

The 23 year-old from the Isle of Man finished in ninth place overall but it was Boonen who reclaimed the title he took in 2008.

He will hope to return in happier circumstances next year.

After a day’s rest on Saturday the streets of Qatar will host the inaugural Tour of Qatar Women’s Race, the first event of its type to be held in the Middle East.

Source:Al Jazeera


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