UAE Tour Stage 2 – Chrono de Chaud

Todays’ stage put the riders and their expensive, rapid bikes against the clock. So yeah it was set to be a mundane day on the couch, watching and waiting for one man to roll down the ramp, and indefinitely win. Before we get into the details of the stage the main headline was that Alpecin-Fenix had to withdraw all seven riders from the race. Unfortunately, Mathieu Van Der Poel was forced out of any, far-fetched chance of winning the overall. The reason for their withdrawal was due to a staff member testing positive for Covid-19. A mere 12 months after the UAE tour produced cycling’s first positive cases.

With the most interesting news of the day out the way, the stage, which we had the privilege of napping to, was a 13-kilometre flat as a pancake time trial through the dunes of Al Hudayriat Island. No doubt then it would be a rapid day in the hot sun. A few honourable mentions from the da then because there was nothing else to comment on. Firstly, Stefan Bissenger of [EF-Education – Nippo] who set the lead early on, and so was due to spend a day tanning in the hot-seat, if you’ll pardon the pun. The Swiss man produced a time of 14m10s and took the quickest time from Mikkel Bjerg who is really beginning to show his craft against the top dogs in the professional World-Tour peloton. He had a great opening season in the World Tour in 2020, now he is looking to solidify this with another stellar season. What a great way to start out then, with those goals in mind.

Thymen Arensman, from Team DSM and formerly part of the u23 talent factory SEG racing. He was sporting some very outrageous ‘tan-socks’ which were questionable but reminiscent of the final years of Bradley Wiggins. He produced a solid time as a young rider, but was a way down from the quickest out there on the day. Another young gun of note and the youngest in the race in fact, Antonio Tiberi, is one of the smoothest riders in the race and the “current” Junior Time Trial World Champion, if you can still call him that. He is in his first World Tour race, having chosen to take a year to learn his craft in u23 before making the step up. What a mistake that was. Only joking, I commend him for taking a slower approach than we’re used to seeing since the singularity of Remco Evenepoel. He begun well and posted a phenomenally quick time for his first appearance with the World-Tour outfit, a time that put him on a par with Fred Wright [Team Bahrain-Victorious]. He sure would have beaten the Englishman from Herne-Hill, if it wasn’t for his horrific and unknown crash that catapulted him across the line. No news that I’ve seen for the reasons of his crash but it appeared to be a mechanical failure, possible from the SRAM drivetrain, which we know have had issues in the past.

Shortly after this horrific incident, the moment we had all been waiting for. #TOPGANNA launched off the runway for what was sure to be a quick time. The only question just how quick… could he break that 14-minute cut off and break 56kmh? He was nearly 10 seconds up on the first time-check, which for 7 minutes’ worth of riding was a pretty big time-gap amongst the specialists of the discipline. Thrashing the pedals, at more than 500 watts, Ganna was flying along the road, if it wasn’t for his negative cambered back producing some downforce he for sure would’ve taken off to the stratosphere. He had his eyes firmly fixed on fellow Italian, Vincenzo Nibali [Trek-Segafredo], who held off the giant all the way to the line. Filippo Ganna, then crossed the line. Staring at the screen anxiously and eagerly awaiting the confirmation on the overall speed. He had broken the 14-minute barrier comfortably by 4 seconds, but was agonisingly close to the 56 kmh average speed, in fact producing a speed of 55.9 kmh. But fine numbers like that doesn’t matter, he got the win adding it to the long list of Ineos’ Chrono successes. What was more daunting, more so than the speed, was the fact he crossed the line hardly out of breath. He was not panting, no he was essentially as fresh as a daisy, sending a message to all his time trial rivals, Ganna is on the hunt for more domination in 2021.

Final note on today’s stage, addressing the elephant in the room. Where the heck were the British TT specialists?? Alex Dowsett and Harry Tanfield looked butter smooth on the bike, with the former only having a little of the classic saddle to and fro. They finished way outside the top ten, which then begs the question, despite all the technology and knowledge that stems from the British scene, why does it not work to put them consistently in the top 10? For Britons suddenly racing in such searing heats, it can mute one’s performance because the acclimatisation time required to produce your maximal power for this type of event is quite intense. So really it was not much of a surprise that these were the results. But I do expect them to improve throughout the season as they become more accustomed to the heat and pre-race routine once again.

Top 10 on the day then as follows:

1st Filippo Ganna [Ineos-Grenadiers]

2nd Stefan Bissenger [EF-Education – Nippo]

3rd Mikkel Bjerg [UAE Team Emirates] a great performance to make the home sponsors happy.

4th Tadej Pogacar [UAE Team Emirates] I’m sorry what, for one who looked uncomfortable all day on the bike how did he, once again, produce a time like that compared to the specialists out there? Anyway, he’s done it. I don’t know how, but this performance boosts him to leading the General Classification overall, with 5 stages remaining.

5th Luis Leon Sanchez [Astana – Premier Tech] 6th João Almeida [Deceuninck-Quickstep] 7th Maximilian Walscheid [Qhuebeka – Assos] 8th Stefan De Bod [Astana – Premier Tech] 9th Daniel Martinez [Ineos-Grenadiers] 10th Matthias Brandle [Israel Start-Up Nation]

We’re set for a tough show down between Adam Yates [Ineos Grenadiers] and first Rayner rider to wear the yellow jersey, João Almeida leader of the 2020 Giro for countless days and Tadej Pogacar winner of 2020 Le Tour. Who do you think would come out on top?