UAE Team Emirates president Matar Al Dhaheri heralded a “great start” for the Emirates-backed team after skipper Rui Costa reigned supreme in a rain-soaked final stage at Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday night.
The Portuguese rider held onto his slim lead in the General Classification after winning the critical mountain Stage 3 on Saturday. The 30-year-old was well protected by his team-mates on the Formula One track, finishing the race 14th to give him overall triumph ahead of Katusha-Alpecin’s Ilnur Zakarin by four seconds.
It signals rapid progress for a team established just two months ago and president Al Dhaheri declared his pride after admitting putting the team under tremendous pressure leading up to the third staging of the Tour – the first time it had been held as a WorldTour race.
“It was tremendous pressure for the team,” said Al Dhaheri.
“We put them under tremendous pressure because this was the first time a WorldTour race comes to the UAE. They proved they were successful, they are champions and they made a whole nation happy.
“It’s great (that the team could cement overall victory after winning Stage 3). It’s the second month and I’m very happy for the team and all the effort they make. The team, the coach, the doctors, the sponsors.
“I think we proved we have a good, young team. They have achieved what we are looking for, it’s a great start. We are having a good season and I hope we will continue on with the same spirit.”
Tour ambassador Mark Cavendish, meanwhile, spoke in glowing terms of the continued growth of the race.
“Absolutely, it has grown again this year,” said the 31-year-old Manx Missile who won the opening stage on Thursday.
“The field we had this year was probably the strongest we’ll get in the whole year. I’m proud to be part of it as an ambassador and to see how much it’s grown. It’s a nice race and you can see how good it is by the fact we had some good racing across the four days.”
Alberto Contador was satisfied with his display at the Abu Dhabi Tour and the Spaniard says his appearance in the Emirates had the desired effect as he looks ahead to the rest of the UCI WorldTour season.
The Trek–Segafredo mountain sensation – who along with Bahrain Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali is one of just two current riders to have won each of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana – caused confusion on Stage 3 of the Tour when he failed to launch a sustained challenge for the win on the crucial Jebel Hafeet ascent.
Saturday’s penultimate leg is renowned for being crucial to the overall General Classification victory, but an attack from favourites such as Contador, Nairo Quintana, Nibali and Fabio Aru never materialized at UAE Team Emirates’ Rui Costa claimed a stage victory that also set up overall triumph.
The 34-year-old Contador finished just over a minute back in 12th place but, having not initially been scheduled to participate in the UAE, claims he is good shape for Paris–Nice which begins on Sunday.
“It’s a race I like a lot. Now I go with a clear head to fight for the victory and we’ll see how I get on,” Contador said of the 75th edition edition of one of cycling’s most iconic races.
“At the end of the day, I decided to come to this race (Abu Dhabi Tour) at the last minute. When we decided to come here it was to gather speed. I had a training camp lined up between Andalucia and Paris-Nice, but we swapped it for this race to get the speed in the legs.
“And that’s what we did. There was a clear leader, Bauke (Mollema), and we had to get behind his chances.”
Portuguese rider Costa, who claimed a maiden race title for his team, having only come into existence in December, won a two man sprint on the Al Ain mountaintop against Katusha-Alpecin opponent Ilnur Zakarin.
The expected showdown between the favourites never unfolded. With teammate Mollema up near the front, Contador was not willing to give too much chase.
He instead stayed as close to Movistar’s Quintana as possible, so that the Colombian would not take the win.
“I’m a rider who likes to attack, but in this case, the better situation was this one,” added Contador, a multiple winner of each of cycling’s three Grand Tours (Tour de France 2007 & 2009; Giro 2008 & 2015; Vuelta 2008, 2012 & 2014).
“We have multiple cards in the team and we played them. For me, (Saturday) a different situation presented itself. At the end of the day, I’m often the most offensive rider, the one who launches a lot of attacks. (Saturday) it was the opposite role for me.
“It’s a role that I like, partly because I’m not so accustomed to doing it. But also I like it because my teammates then have more options.
“The truth is the sensations were good. Coming almost straight from Ruta (Vuelta a Andalucia, where he finished second overall) with the travel and the time changes, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. But the truth is I felt very good.
“(Saturday) we played the card of Bauke, which was good for us, and it was down to me to control the race. I knew that Nairo was the most dangerous rider, I knew that if I managed to control things for Bauke, it would be best way to make an impact.
“In the end, they took a lot of time up front, and Bauke wasn’t able to make it up. But still, it was good, another day of training.”
The third edition of the Abu Dhabi Tour and the first since the event was awarded WorldTour status proved worthy of the sensational field of top riders who assembled at Yas Marina Circuit last week.
As expected, the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour was the biggest and best since the race’s inception – and one whose scale and impact is demonstrated by the facts and figures below.