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.
To the stage. Stage 1 was far from the boring affair of ride, chat and start winding it up with 5km remaining. No, today had a thorn in the side, wind. The UAE has an abundance of the thing. It can make the simplest of days into one of the most difficult you will have to deal with throughout the whole season, and today the riders had to contend with 110km of echelon riding along the barren stretches of tarmac. With 81km remaining, we were shown who was in the front group. To everyone’s surprise, I’m sure, Adam Yates – formerly a Dave Rayner Foundation rider – was isolated from Ineos-Grenadiers. An appropriately rare case considering they’ve got the king of crosswinds, Luke Rowe, and powerhouse (for want of a better word) Filippo Ganna.
Other main protagonists included, Mathieu Van Der Poel and Tadej Pogacar, who appeared to learn from his mistakes of Le Tour 2020 when he lost vast amounts of time to Roglic and other General Classification contenders on the rapid stage won by Wout Van Aert. Key sprinters that made the split, included master of the conditions, and also returning from an emergency heart surgery, Elia Viviani [Cofidis], a ‘you’re only as good as your last’ race Fernando Gaviria, and the exciting young talent, who is literally head and shoulders above the other riders, David Dekker [Jumbo-Visma]. The gap was maintained at 1m30 seconds for over 80 kilometres, before extending to 3m36 seconds checked at 18km. As Brian Smith said, ‘The Overall is gone, and teams are disappointed.’ But thankfully for us, Pogacar and Yates, the big rivals this time last year are both in the front group and only separated by a few bonus seconds. So we are still potentially in for an exciting week of racing.
So as traditional with the UAE tour, the action begun to pick up with 10 km to go when, Quickstep, without their main man Bennett, began launching moves left right and centre and over the top. A true tactics show for young riders to be watching. Their main reason for this simply, no one wants to go to the line with Mathieu Van Der Poel, especially after a hard classic-like day in the crosswinds. It was apparent UAE wanted to impress home sponsors, with TT specialist Mikkel Bjerg setting the pace for his sprinter Fernando Gaviria. The Columbian I must say, had complete souplesseIMO in the saddle today, appearing to be like his old self again, which is great to see. When he is on form he is a true sight to behold.
Matteo Cattaneo [Deceuninck-Quickstep] with 5km launched his bid for the win, putting in a searing attack when the pace lulled, tactical perfection. He held a maximum gap of 15 seconds, which slowly creeped down with Gaviria eventually being the one to close the gap. A bit far for a sprinter, but as he has vast experience from the track, 1.6km is not completely out his comfort zone. Van Der Poel, ominous as he usually is, was right up there, following Viviani who opened up out of the final corner, but due to his recent heart surgery had no kick to contend with the best sprinters out there. So, Van Der Poel with his classy sprinting style on the bike came round easily for the win, with Dekker closely behind on his wheel. A true show of the classics rider’s strength to still put out an incredibly powerful sprint, after those tough attritional miles.
IMO “Style”, or souplesse on the bike I believe you either have or don’t it is very hard to acquire it through training. Not impossible just extremely difficult. With souplesse, comes power, and having power brings victories so it is usually the case that the most stylishly, smooth rider in the peloton wins a bike race. Take Michael Woods from yesterday’s Tour des Alpes-Maritimes, sure he makes it work for him but his way of riding is not style, it’s not classy, especially compared with the likes of fan favourite’s Mathieu Van Der Poel, Wout Van Aert, Tadej Pogacar and Marc Hirschi. Your eye is constantly drawn to the subtle nature with which they ride their bike, and for me it makes me truly smile and admire a rider like this. I hope I am smooth on the bike and have some style, but you can never know, no matter how many people tell you, you do.
1st Mathieu Van Der Poel [Alpecin-Fenix]
2nd David Dekker [Jumbo-Visma]
3rd Michael Morkov [Deceuninck-Quickstep]
4th Emils Liepins [Trek-Segafredo] 5th Elia Viviani [Cofidis] 6th Tadej Pogacar [UAE Team Emirates] 7th Anthony Roux [Groupama-FDJ] 8th Chris Harper [Jumbo-Visma] 9th João Almeida [Deceuninck-Quickstep] 10th Fausto Masnada [Deceuninck-Quickstep]