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.
A Duo attacked and escaped right from KM0 and contained arguably the most accomplished breakaway riders currently in the professional peloton. That being Tony Gallopin [AG2R-Citroen] and the likeable Thomas De Gendt [Lotto-Soudal] who was sporting his newly sponsored Suplest shoes. The pairing gained a maximum of 6m25s before being closed back down to ensure a showdown between the climbers.
With just over 10km to go, and Jebel Hafeet looming, we did not see the typical arrow-head formation heading into the base of the climb. That’s because the infamous ascent takes place on a major highway with over 5 lanes worth of road, so positioning is not the be-all end-all on this specific stage. You can easily come around the back and float up the outside and have a solid chance at the stage. Very different dynamics to those we’ll see later on in the season, in races like the Tour and Giro.
At the base of the climb De Gendt called it a day whilst Gallopin pushed on at over 400 watts and holding a 22 seconds advantage over the peloton. Whilst the Frenchman pushed on, the ever-uncomfortable Chris Froome [Israel Start-Up Nation] was seen at the back of the peloton alongside ex-teammate Wout Poels [Team-Bahrain Victorious]. The Englishman, and 4-time Tour winner does not appear to be anywhere close to his usual top form, although he is admittedly performing better than 12 months ago, when he was dispatched long before the climb even begun. So he has made some improvements however minimal those are, but then again he was brought up under the marginal gains philosophy of Dave Brailsford, so I’m sure he’s satisfied with his progress so far.
UAE Team Emirates were pushing the pace making it hard for every other riders and teams, so that their star Tadej Pogacar could have an easy time, sitting pretty in his leader’s jersey. The home team had 3 solid climbers pulling through setting a rapid pace on the steep, winding slopes of the Jebel Hafeet. Jan Polanc emptied himself, then followed by Rafal Majka, and the penultimate man, Davide Formolo. Equally, showing their match to the Arab team, was Ineos, as usual. They were riding for Adam Yates who is defending his 2020 crown. I must say he looked back to his old easy way of riding on the bike. Very planted with his poker face showing no pain at all. He looked ready and like Ineos’ training regime had certainly worked for him in 2020-21 winter.
Ineos’ new star signing Dani Martinez, showed us that last’s year’s Tour stage winning form was not a fluke. He lifted UAE’s pace up to another level, and not only obliterated the group but put all his teammates in the red. All bar Yates. Sepp Kuss then broke the strangle-hold of the select final group and gapped GC threat, João Almeida [Deceuninck-Quickstep]. Kuss appeared to be a way from his top form, as not long after his attack, Adam Yates countered and distanced the American, dragging Pogacar along with him. Yates looked a like he’d taken a huge step up from last year’s Le Tour, where Pogacar, the man in his wheel distanced him several times, even when the Lancashire-man was in the Yellow jersey. As I’m a Rayner rider, albeit a rider of different characteristics to Yates, it inspires me that racing and riding on the continent can indeed work out for you.
My Jaw dropped at 3.5 Km when Yates continued to lift the speed, taking a peek over his shoulder to scope out how Pogacar was feeling. In response, he shook his head and smiled. Adam Yates, is going to have his best season yet this year. You heard it here firstIMO. Yates with another searing attack, appeared to lay all his cards on the table. He wanted to dispatch of the Slovenian before the technical final few hundred metres. His attacks undoubtedly would rinse his leg of his impressive base kick, and inevitably leave the victory to Pogacar, who was sitting in the wheels for the majority of the climb. Pogacar was hurting, however, showing Voeckler level faces. But we know how much Pogacar can light it up and find something deep in the finale of a race.
Last 1km, Yates, on the front and not paying near enough attention to where or what Pogacar was doing. The Slovenian dropped behind the wheel leaving a few bike length’s gap, just like a well-versed track specialist. With 400 m to go, and 300m to the final hairpin, he gap-rushed and got the jump on the Englishman, who could not close back up before the final corner. So Pogacar has the win by over a bike length in the end. A shame for Yates, but he and Ineos can be super happy with the steps he’s moved forward this winter. I’m excited and happy to see Yates on that kind of form. It’s been a while.
IMO Yates should have his best year this year. Here’s why. The Englishman has long had a tough battle when the heat soars high and the road kicks upwards. But today’s performance shows he’s battling this weakness, and demonstrates that he is getting on top of it in fine style. Yates also, has never showed that level of determination, strength and fitness in any shape that he showed today. He just kept on accelerating unrelentingly, and seemingly never ran out of breath, like he was on a Sunday club run, cruising up the climb. Most importantly for Yates… He looked so happy to be at the front racing full gas again. He looked to be playing with Pogacar, loving the challenge the young rider was showing. I look forward to seeing how Yates goes this year.
So the top 10 on the first of two mountain top finishes at the UAE-Tour:
1st Tadej Pogacar [UAE Team Emirates] who is also 43 seconds ahead of Yates in 2nd place on GC
2nd Adam Yates [Ineos-Grenadiers]
3rd Sergio Higuita [EF-Education – Nippo]
4th Emanuel Buchmann [Bora-Hansgrohe] 5th Harm VanHoucke [Lotto-Soudal] 6th João Almeida [Deceuninck-Quickstep] 7th Florian Stork [Team DSM] 8th Neilson Powless [EF-Education-Nippo] 9th Chris Harper [Team Jumbo-Visma] 10th Geoffrey Bouchard [AG2R-Citroen]