Another scorcher of a day, not least because of the intense rivalry that will undoubtedly be shown on the final 10 km climb, up to Jebel Hafeet. Pogacar was leading overall but by only a handful of seconds, could the reigning Le Tour champion be matched in this final early season test. I say final early season test because it’s FINALLY opening weekend in 4 days’ time. I for sure cannot wait for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Have I mentioned the UAE Tour is a slightly dull affair? Yeah? Well I said it again for good measure.
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.
This stage race, in the heart of the middle east is typically one of a boring nature because of the long, arrow straight, flat roads, of course barring Jebel Hafeet. There are also never many people on the side of the road, which makes me think, ideal for covid right. The UAE Tour is a sprinter’s paradise but cruelly a race they cannot win overall, despite winning the majority of the stages. This year’s edition has drawn the interest of many of the top name sprinters like: Sam Bennett [Deceuninck-Quickstep], Caleb Ewan [Lotto-Soudal], Jasper Philipsen [Alpecin-Fenix] and Giacomo Nizzolo [Qhuebeka-Assos]. So definitely a race where we’ll see more fist bumping from the bromance of Bennett and Ewan, whilst also seeing who – out of this extensive list of sprinters – has had the best preparation this winter. Like all the other early season races it will certainly set the scene for the 2021 season, and what we can expect from each rider.
Before we begin, stage 1 must be addressed. There was no report simply because there was no footage and I was not about reading another report to just write my own. So without further ado, Bauke Mollema and Trek-Segafredo took the driving seat by obtaining the golden leader’s jersey of Tour de Alpes-Maritimes. He beat a rejuvenated Greg Van Avermaet [AG2R-Citroen]. The highlight from stage 1 though was the team work, or lack of from Groupama-FDJ. They put 4 of their ‘team-leaders’ in the top 10. A feat Movistar would be jealous of. All eyes, pre-stage were on how Tom Pidcock and Ineos would fair given their star-studded line up they have brought to the climber’s race. They did not shine through though, with Tao being the notable headline with a small fall mid-way through the stage. But he continues on like the champ he is.
Day 3 of Tour de la Provence almost didn’t happen after some late night, heavy snowfall. Yet the stage was cleared to go and sees the riders take on a 154km and the professional peloton climb the first summit finish of 2021 on the famous Mont Ventoux, a difficult one to start off with. Prior to the climactic finish lies a rolling, fairly mundane stage where a breakaway escaped. It included a young Florian Vermeesch [Lotto-Soudal]; For the second day in a row, Jerome Cousin [Total-Direct Energie]; his teammate Damien Gaudin [Total-Direct Energie]; Louis Louvet [St Michel – Auber93]; Nicola Bagioli [B&B Hotels p/b KTM] and Alessandro Fedeli [Delko]. The sextet forged on to gain a maximum gap of 3m30s ahead of a chilled peloton, if you’ll pardon the pun.