The pair sit first and second on the general classification, respectively, following the 11.4km stage three time trial that pre-race favourite Boasson Hagen executed brilliantly.
The Norwegian averaged 50.918km/h over the Lusail circuit to take his first win of the season, and the team’s second, in 13 minutes and 26 seconds with Jos Van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) 25 seconds in arrears for runner-up and Manuel Quinziato (BMC) 29 adrift for third.
“I didn’t feel like I was going fast but I think when you suffer a lot then you go also maybe faster, so it’s good to get the proof that I was pretty fast,” Boasson Hagen said.
Dimension Data has not at all underestimated the unpredictability of the race although Cavendish took a moment to enjoy its current position following what sports director Roger Hammond deemed a “crucial” stage.
“There’s obviously an aerodynamic disadvantage for us both in the jerseys, and as well to see each other is a little bit harder, but certainly it’s an honour to be in the gold and silver jerseys in Qatar,” the 30-year-old said.
Boasson Hagen has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts at Dimension Data, returning to the winner’s circle today as well as last year with a title victory at the Tour of Britain, two national championships and stage triumphs at the Tour of Denmark and the Tour des Fjords, following a winless final chapter at former team Sky.
“I’ve seen some things in my time but that was impressive. Eddie’s ride was absolutely unbelievable, like following a motorbike. They were focused, went for it and attention to details was 100 per cent,” Hammond observed.
Cavendish himself put time into rivals on day three in which another overall favourite in versatile sprinter Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was distanced.
The Manxman sits 26 seconds adrift of Boasson Hagen on overall and with two flat stages of the tour remaining and intermediate time bonuses on offer is not out of contention.
“As long as we win GC it doesn’t matter,” Cavendish said when asked of race tactics between the pair going forward.
“We’re going to try and win some more stages. It is difficult with the time bonuses. If we have one spill on a stage and then Kristoff wins, he gets the time bonus and all of a sudden he’s back up there [on GC] so we just have to be careful there. But we’re definitely in a strong positon.”
Cavendish transferred to Dimension Data with an entourage this season and took the squad’s first scalp of the year here at the end of stage one. The team has a grip on the race but Hammond isn’t calling for celebrations yet.
“This race is completely different from one day to the next,” Hammond said. “If no wind is forecast tomorrow it is a different race to when they forecast 45km/h winds so you can’t predict tactics from a week ago because you just have no idea. It’s day by day.”