Belgian Champion wins by the smallest of margins, while Remco Evenepoel gains time on many of the GC rivals.
Stage 1 of the UAE Tour was one for the ages, torn apart by the crosswinds just two kilometers after the start, when the main group was left numbering only 19 men, including World Champion Remco Evenepoel. It marked the start of an insane day in the saddle, with the wind whipping across the landscape as many riders were left struggling in no man’s land while the leading group kept extending its advantage.
Basically, the entire 151km route from Al Dhafra Castle to Al Mirfa was one long crosswinds section, but that didn’t bother Evenepoel. Resplendent in his rainbow jersey, the Belgian took some long turns at the front of the group, which soon carried a comfortable one-minute buffer that only added to the pressure on those fighting hard to come back. Later into the stage, after the second intermediate sprint where he picked up bonifications, Remco was joined by four of his Soudal Quick-Step teammates – who missed the initial split due to a crash in the peloton – and The Wolfpack bossed the crosswinds, provoking another echelon with 30 kilometers to go.
It all happened in the blink of an eye, when Tim Merlier produced a devastating acceleration that left only a dozen or so riders in contention for the stage victory. Evenepoel and Van Leberghe quickly joined this move, which opened a one-minute gap and went all the way to the line. In the final kilometer, Bert Van Lerberghe provided a tremendous lead-out to Tim Merlier and the Belgian Champion launched on the left side of the road with 200 meters to go, taking the team’s sixth victory of the season. It came only after a tense photo-finish, the organisers needing 15 minutes to declare the winner by the tiniest of margins.
“It was a hard stage, but I believed in myself and in this squad. Bert did a great job to launch me, I had a good jump and the moment I started the sprint I felt good and kept powering on, but Caleb came off my wheel and he’s always dangerous. I gave it my all, but it was close so we had to quite a lot to know who won, but it was worth it and I’m happy I could take another victory for the team”, said an elated Tim, who leads the overall and the points standings at the UAE Tour.
“I also have to thank Remco for this, he was incredibly strong and did a top effort in the crosswinds to help the group stay off the front. The race is still long, but we had a perfect start and this only motivates us for the next stages.”
“We had a good day and we can be happy. We could even say we got off to a great start, better than we expected to be sincere. When the crosswinds hit, I could follow pretty easily, which is a good sign for the upcoming days. We won the stage, we gained significant time on many riders, and the confidence is really high after this intense day of racing”, Evenepoel – who is sixth on the general classification ahead of the team time trial – added.
Photo credit: ©Dario Belingheri / Getty Images