Quickstep’s Tom Boonen comfortably bested the bunch in a mass sprint to take victory today in the 136.5km third stage of the Tour of Qatar.

Trek Livestrong’s young Brit Alex Dowsett was one of a three-man break right from the gun, a break that was caught after 25km; later, Gatis Smukulis (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Steven Van Vooren (Topsport-Vlaanderen) also made a jump, during a brief respite from the strong desert winds. Yet the peloton, unwilling to repeat yesterday’s mistakes, swallowed them back up with more than 25km to go.

It was all set, then, for a bunch sprint with Liquigas, and Saxobank’s Fabian Cancellara, pushing the pace in a flying last couple of kilometres… too early, it seems, as both teams faded. And in a long, scrappy sprint it was Boonen who edged it over Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo Test Team) in second and Baden Cooke (Saxobank) in third.

A nasty crash in the last 200m took place behind the front of the field, so had no effect on the Belgian’s first stage win in his quest to take the race for a fourth time. Exactly who was involved is as yet unclear, but it appears that four riders went down after wheels touched in the mêlée.

Boonen, wearing the Belgian champion’s jersey, now is third in the overall standings. Wouter Mol, however, looked comfortable, protected by his VacanSoleil team-mates in the pack, and his lead of nearly two minutes on third place still looks imposing.

What do you think?