• Mark Cavendish (2-L) sprints to win the first stage of the Tour of Qatar (AAP)Source: AAP
Mark Cavendish doesn’t need encouragement to win but words from expert sports director Roger Hammond did spur him on to his first victory with Dimension Data at the Tour of Qatar on Monday.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
9 Feb 2016 - 7:21 AM  UPDATED 9 Feb 2016 - 8:29 AM

Cavendish claimed the opening stage of the race in a reduced group sprint from Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Andrea Guardini (Astana) at the same finish in Al Khor Corniche where Hammond in 2009 similarly took line honours and the first leader’s jersey.

The duo, who again join forces at the newly minted WorldTour outfit Dimension Data this season, have a unique professional pairing that dates back to 2007 when Cavendish as a rookie lived and raced with compatriot Hammond.

“We actually really wanted to go well here,” the Manxman said post-race.

“I was with Roger Hammond as a neo-pro in Telecom and he’s the guy that looked after me when I first turned professional. In 2009, the first year we didn’t ride together, he won at this finish. It’s nice to come full circle and Roger is now my director here. I said this morning I want to win here just as a hat to Rog, you know, and I’m happy I could do that.

“The motivation he gave to the guys yesterday in the team meeting, actually, I’m 30 years old, I didn’t think I needed to learn anymore and half the stuff in my head now I learnt only last night from Roger. He’s been wicked and I’m happy the first race we’ve done together we could get a win, as well as the guys. It was a real good team effort.”

Cavendish along with the main contenders was in a decisive split of 21 riders that formed in crosswinds after 50km of the buffeted 180.5km stage across country and stayed away.

Dimension Data were outnumbered in the front group compared to Katusha and BMC but Cavendish still had Edvald Boasson Hagen and Tyler Farrar there as solid support in his first return to the race since 2013 where he won three stages and the overall title.

“He was annoyed because when he won it overall he didn’t take the jersey on the first day,” Hammond said. “He wanted to because when I won it, it was the first day as well so you take the jersey. It was a little bit of rivalry about trying to match that and do it better. He’s going to go on and win it now probably just to outshine me like he always does!”

Hammond has a wealth of experience racing in Qatar and reading the changing winds, which define the tour commonly considered as an important testing ground for spring classics specialists.

“This was one of my races that I could do. I knew how to ride this race,” he explained. “Six years of riding in the crosswinds with Cervelo and Garmin and all the teams you get to know it quite well. With Cervelo, we never missed a break, we were always in the front. You obviously still need to have a good team and the team were really strong so they helped Mark. They knew what their jobs were and he was able to finish it off.”

Dimension Data did not have a faultless day with Mark Renshaw, Matthew Brammeier and Youcef Reguigui distanced by a crash and Jay Thomson disadvantaged with a mechanical.

“We lost four guys in 10 minutes but it shows you the strength and depth we had. The guys are going well, they were ready for the fight so that was the main thing,” Hammond said.

Stage two of the tour on Tuesday will give world championship aspirants like Cavendish an insight into the course for the 2016 title race here with part of the circuit included.

Cavendish noted the time trial on Wednesday may thwart his chances of overall victory, however, he clearly has an effective arsenal at his disposal, no less in Hammond.

“He lived with me when he turned pro so I’ve seen Cav in his lowest moments, in his first year when he was having a real struggle. I just love the character he has got,” Hammond said.

“He’s got a place in our family so to be able to work with him here is my dream come true. If I can help him to victories, help him to notch up a few more that makes my life happy as well.”