Apologies for the delay…
So here we go, the second sprint opportunity from the UAE Tour, but due to the crosswinds of stage 1, this was going to be the first mano-a-mano sprint of 2021 for many of these riders. Fewer external factors determining the stage result, so the best sprinter on the day could well be classed the best sprinter thus far in 2021.
Focussing on the final 5km then, Deceuninck Quickstep were in perfect formation, all 7 riders were wheel to wheel and ready to take control of the finale, outright. The other sprinter of note was that of David Dekker, from rival team, Jumbo Visma. The Dutchman had played the flip card from an Uno deck. He was all alone, “surfing” the wheels scanning for the best one that would give him the best chance at victory. Constantly chopping and changing as one team gets swamped and an opportunity opens for another. Two opposing tactics then to sink our teeth into. Quickstep were just holding back out of the wind, but still in an optimal position within the “washing machine” which consists of the top 20 riders of so. Dekker was still placed all the time in the top 10, sitting in the middle of the bunch just cruising and waiting patiently for his opportunity to arise.
With 3 km to go, the front of the bunch was littered with different riders. That means only one thing… it was going to be a sketchy and nervous 5 minutes of riding. After this fight for position at the front, Lotto Soudal’s VIP lead out man, Roger Kluge was peering left and right over his shoulder wishing to see his protected rider, Caleb Ewan in the wheel and very much out of the wind. This made me giggle a little bit because the German is casually doing 600 watts controlling the peloton and barely struggling.
To our key riders of interest, Bennett and Dekker. Dekker continued on solo, finally picking up the wheel of a key rival, Pascal Ackermann [Bora-Hansgrohe] with 1.5 km to go. But, was it the right one? That remained to be seen. Bennett on the other hand was sitting pretty on, what I’m calling the “Mark Renshaw” of the past half-decade… Michael Morkøv. He’s done a phenomenal for the the Belgian outfit, helping various sprinters to a whole host of top-level victories. I fundamentally think if he was not there, looking after the sprinters of Quickstep, they would not have half the victories they’ve achieved in the last 5 years.
1km to go, the peloton stretched out to single file riding. Bennett in the best position out of all the contenders, no disrespect to Andre Greipel. The Irishman found himself easily within the top 10 riders and 2 of those were his teammates. An ideal setup to ensure he has the best chance of succeeding in the sprint for the win. Meanwhile Dekker, was far outside the top 20, but all was not lost as he was stuck to the wheel of Caleb Ewan, who as we know from previous performances can come from a very long way back.
800 to go, Dekker pinched on the barriers continuing to search for that perfect wheel, and it appeared he’d recognised his opportunity. Just now about grabbing it by the scruff of the neck. He needed Bennett’s wheel, and it was within touching distance.
200m to go, the launchpad in sprinting terms, as it’s the ideal length, in time, to kick out the saddle, and be with enough energy to make a high-power sprint all the way to the line. Bennett STILL had Morkøv in front of him biding his time waiting for the ideal moment. Dekker had already started his sprint from well over 500 m, not the high watts we expect but an anaerobic effort nonetheless. Bennett drifted left towards the barrier, gifting Dekker with the slipstream he so desperately needed. It appeared Bennett had launched at just the right moment, when all the other sprinters (who may not be in ideal sprinting form) started to die off after 10 seconds of full gas riding. He came around the other protagonists on the quickest line as the road swooped left. The Quickstep rider claimed the victory comfortably by over a bike length showing why he is still the best sprinter of the World-Tour peloton! What a ride from the Irishman, but chapeau to Dekker who finished a brilliant second place after being outside the top 10 with 300 m remaining. It was even more remarkable because he did the majority of the sprint seated, something we don’t see many riders do nowadays. The last one I remember was Dan Mclay surfing the wheels to victory a few years ago.,
1st Sam Bennett [Deceuninck-Quickstep]
2nd David Dekker [Jumbo-Visma] & leading the point classification
3rd Caleb Ewan [Lotto-Soudal]
4th Elia Viviani [Cofidis] 5th Matteo Moschetti [Trek-Segafredo] 6th Pascal Ackermann [Bora-Hansgrohe] 7th Phil Bauhaus [Team Bahrain-Victorious] 8th Giacomo Nizzolo [Qhuebeka-Assos] 9th Fernando Gaviria [UAE Team Emirates] 10th Kaden Groves [Team DSM]